Monday, 21 May 2012

It’s not iconic, it’s just well-known!

Iconic adj. 1 of or having the nature of an image or portrait. 2 (of a statue) following a conventional type. 3 Linguistics that is an icon.

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 State University Michigan, 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.’

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 Victoria’s Iconic 4WD Adventures.

·         The platypus is an iconic mammal.

·         Mortein and Dettol are iconic brands.

·         Entire countries can be iconic; Intrepid Travel reckons China is.

·         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 Amsterdam.

·         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 Lake Superior University’s 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 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.)

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