The abuse of the word iconic has reached epidemic proportions and I feel compelled to write of the plight of this poor, misunderstood and grossly overused little adjective. It has become perhaps the word of the 21st century commentariat, used to describe just about anything and anyone in order to generate maximum hyperbole.
In 2009, the annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness, produced by Lake Superior
identified iconic as a word which has effectively been stripped of its meaning
by repeated maltreatment. The eggheads behind the list suggested it had been
used to ‘describe everything from a fast-food chain to celebrities.’ State
In the past few weeks, I have seen it applied by reporters (I hesitate to call them journalists) in conjunction with a winery, a shopfront and – get this – a small hill in my local area. The fact that none of these things is even remotely famous, let alone genuinely iconic, seems to do nothing to deter sensation-hungry writers from continuing to employ this fecund little word.
A Google search reveals that:
· There is a four wheel drive tour company in
Victoria called ’s
Iconic 4WD Adventures. Victoria
· The platypus is an iconic mammal.
· Mortein and Dettol are iconic brands.
· Entire countries can be iconic; Intrepid Travel reckons
· The most iconic junk food, according to Time, are Twinkies.
· Iconic Minerals is a Vancouver-based junior resource exploration company.
· There is an iconic pedestrian bridge in
· Sarah Burke, who died in January, was an iconic skier.
· Whitney Houston was an iconic pop star, according to Yahoo.
· The A.V. Club has published a list of 25 songs with ‘iconic snare drum intros’ (Fake Plastic Trees’ comment is a cracker: ‘I’m not even sure what a snare drum is, but I like most of these songs.’)
For the love of sanity, I hereby propose some alternatives: famous, notable, much-loved, legendary, popular, famed, celebrated, familiar, renowned, significant, prominent, major, dead.
(I think all of the words I would like to see in the
list are related to overstatement. Awesome, for instance, is a word I would
like to see retired from everyday use entirely and confined to things that
actually inspire awe – the Grand Canyon, supernovas, the Large Hadron Collider,
the Christmas Island red crab migration – as opposed to things that could best
be described as good – t-shirts, nice breezes, the abilities of people who
appear on TV talent shows. The good boys and girls at Lake
Superior University Lake
Superior have already covered game changer, an irritating and
pointless little expression which has recently infested the lexicon. I most
recently saw it used by a critic in conjunction with a ballet. Critics, of
course, adore hyperbole because it gets their name on posters.)