Skip to main content

Reclaiming the icon

For a long time I have been teetering on the edge of mildly exploding (is that both an oxymoron and a mixed metaphor in one sentence? Ace!) about the popular use of the words 'icon' and 'iconic' as in 'Albert Einstein was an icon of the scientific age,' or 'this is an iconic song.'

According to my dictionary this usage of a word that previously applied to a religious painting seems to have emerged around the 1950s. But the usage should concern an exemplar, something that is representative of the height of a particular culture or movement. So Albert Einstein can indeed be considered an icon, but the same doesn't go for many other uses.

The way 'icon' is employed pretty well daily in the media, particularly on TV and radio, is much weaker. As long as someone or something is faintly well-known, they become an icon. So, for instance, according to The X-Factor, whichever hideous old song is being recycled on the show is an 'iconic song' (or even worse, an 'iconic anthem'). And the particular offending case that started me on this rant - at the weekend I heard Laurence Llewelyn Bowen (yes, I know it's my fault for listening to him) refer to the Schindler's List theme as one of the iconic film scores of the 20th century.

Leaving aside the fact that practically every great film score is from the 20th century (name me a 19th century one, or more than a couple of 21st century ones), this is a dubious statement at best. The Schindler's List theme is very good - I'd probably put it in the top 100 - but for me there should only be a couple of iconic scores that somehow typify the genre, and I'm really not sure that this can be said of this particular piece of music.

I know it's boring when people get on a hobby horse about grammar or punctuation or word usage. I know word usage changes with time. But this one of those examples where there are so many other words essentially meaning 'well-known' or 'rather good' that there really is no need to be so profligate with our icons. Keep your verbal hands (yes! mixing it again) off.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope