The Trouble With Intellectuals
Prelude To A Whole Lot of Preludes and Fugues

Worst Use of "Iconic"

Something which begins as a mild annoyance can become infuriating or maddening if it goes on long enough. Such is my reaction to the contemporary use of the word "iconic." At first it was applied to fairly significant things that over some fairly lengthy period of time have become a part of our cultural furniture: "Da Vinci's iconic Mona Lisa." It became a cliché, and therefore tiresome. Gradually...or was it suddenly? began to be applied to well-known commercial trademarks: "Macdonald's iconic golden arches." (I never thought about it before, but Macdonald's arches are just plain old yellow, nowhere near gold in color.)

At that point it was silly and pretentious and meant nothing more than "well-known," often applied to non-visual things that further twisted the sense of the word: 'the iconic feedback opening of "I Feel Fine."' And then came a rapid descent into the trivial and vacuous. I'm pretty sure I saw "the iconic Bud Light brand" during the recent furor surrounding it.

But I don't think this headline is surpassable:

Arby's Is Bringing Back One of It's Most Iconic Deals

 The apostrophe in "It's" is a nice touch. You don't really want a link to it, do you?

At this point the word produces a fingernails-on-blackboard reaction in me.  (Now that blackboards have pretty well fallen out of use, is that image still intelligible to people under fifty or so?)

You can amuse or depress yourself by going to one of the search engines and allowing it to suggest completions for "iconic" followed by various letters.

iconic anime characters

iconic barbie outfits

iconic batteries

iconic candy

iconic crocs

For "iconic z," Google gives you six phrases involving The Legend of Zelda, a video game. DuckDuckGo gives you "zoom backgrounds." "Iconic m" gave me "iconic memes," of which this is one. I don't know who these people are. 



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My 16 year old niece recently asserted that Taylor Swift's "Reputation" was an iconic album.

Ask her to explain what she means. That could be interesting.

It occurs to me that the two young women in that picture are probably Kardashians.

If I asked her to explain, she might actually try to do it.

I suppose there's some faint justification for using it in the sense of "most representative" or "most characteristic" in addition to being well-known. Way better than Arby's deal, anyway.

Funny, I thought of this same thing yesterday when I heard on the radio a use of the word which surely takes the cake in terms of inanity. It was an advert for an upcoming concert at a local casino, which features "one of the most iconic Queen tribute bands."

That's staggeringly idiotic. Queen itself isn't "iconic," let alone some Queen tribute band. But then add to that the "one of the most..." and the thing collapses into meaninglessness. One is given the impression that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of Queen tribute bands, some of which are more iconic than the others, and aren't you lucky that the one playing at the casino is one of them!

Iconic blog post!


Rob, that may be even worse than the Arby's example. "One of the most" puts it in another class.

However, I think a lot of journalists who write about pop culture would disagree with you about Queen being iconic. That's exactly the kind of thing they would say and exactly the kind of band they would say it about.

Agree about Queen as far as the pop culture writers go, which kind of proves your point.

I think you're right about the word now meaning something like "famous + characteristic/representative." Anytime someone describes something as iconic, the curmudgeon in me wants to say, "Iconic of what?"

P.S. I don't know who the two girls in the pic are either. I don't know enough about the Kardassians to tell what they look like, so your guess is as good as mine. At first I thought the one on the right may have been Brooke Shields.

Ok, I admit I would recognize Kim Kardashian. I guess she's more famous. But I know there are others and although I don't know what they look like I think they have the same basic dark-haired Mediterranean sort of look.

Personally I would like to prohibit "iconic" except as a reference to actual icons. But aside from the fact that I don't have the power to do that the syndrome is too far gone.

Aren't the Kardashians aliens on Star Trek?

My college son says, "What an icon!" when someone he knows performs an action he admires.

I guess that could be construed in a good way. :-) Something/someone to serve as a good example?

Robert, yes, and isn't it strange that two species separated by so much time and space should have the same name?

Come to think of it, I guess the use of "iconic" was only a matter of time once we started referring to famous people as "icons."

Another similar usage I've heard among younger people is "epic," used obviously as hyperbole. But I don't think they get the hyperbolic nature of their usage, since they most likely are unfamiliar with anything that's truly "epic."

“Epic” doesn’t bother me. It strikes me as just silly hyperbole, with a hint of irony. Like “awesome,” which in the slangy sense has been around for a generation I guess. Whereas “iconic” has a flavor of pretentiousness.

“Amazing” is very popular among girls and young women. “This muffin is amazing.” No worse than “awesome” and “epic” I guess but it always strikes me as ridiculous.

Some of the Kardashians are really Jenners, lol. Modern pop culture is pretty sad. A friend of mine, much younger than me, likes to use the word "epic". The first time she said it to me my response was, "Like Homer?"

And she thought you meant some hick character? That's a funny thing about American culture: the name "Homer" somehow came to be associated with hillbillies, as in Homer and Jethro. I bet there are next to no people born since 1970 or so named Homer. Same for a lot of biblical names.

I have a neighbor named Homer who's in his 30s. He is the historian of his family association. His toddler son is also named Homer--in fact, he's Homer Lastname V.

Cool! Seriously, I’m glad to hear that. Do people tease him about his name?

I'm embarrassed to say that I feel a bit self-satisfied that "Homer" makes me think of the Iliad and not the Simpsons.

I don’t blame you. How could I have forgotten that Homer?! Perfect example of the way people hear it now. Even though I’ve never watched the show very much I’m well aware of him.

No, the Homer I know is so obviously proud of his name that no-one teases him.

There is a well-known HVAC company in our area called Homer Nine & Sons, established back in the 40's or 50's. Not sure whether any of Mr. Nine's sons were named Homer. Seeing the name on their trucks and billboards has kept it in my consciousness, but I can't say that I recall ever having met an actual "Homer."

One of the more interesting names I've come across recently is that of a fellow who frequently comes into my local watering hole. He's a black guy, and my guess is that he's about 60 -- his first name is Essex, which I really like.

That's pretty cool.

I just remembered a Homer. Back in the '60s he ran a radio station in the little town where I went to high school, and although he must have been competent at that, he fit the hick stereotype a little in one way. The hourly news consisted of him reading the "wire" reports supplied by AP or some similar service, and he often came to grief on unfamiliar words. I remember my father saying it was fun to listen and see what creative pronunciation he would come up with. I think he was the father of a couple of guys my age, neither of whom was named Homer.

Is the HVAC guy's name Homer Something IX or is Nine his actual family name?

Nine is the family name. I had an Old Testament prof in college whose name was Carl Nine. We always thought it was funny because he had a strong interest in numerology!

Isn't there a Star Trek character named Nine? Or maybe I'm thinking of Stranger Things, with the heroine known only as Eleven for a big part of the story?

I'm probably thinking of Seven of Nine.

"[N]ame a more iconic duo. I'll wait."

13 milliseconds later...

Adam & Eve
Batman & Robin
Lucy & Ethel
Jacob & Esau
Paul & Silas
Napoleon & Josephine
Victoria & Albert
Dungeons & Dragons
Sanford & Son
Mergers & Acquisitions
Abbot & Costello
Luke & Leia (pre-deconstruction)
Lewis & Tolkien
Jack & Diane (of "little ditty" fame)
T&A (sorry)
Gin & Tonic
Whiskey & Soda
Wine & Cheese
Surf & Turf
Faith & Works
Ora et Labora
Dulce et Decorum cetera, et cetera, et alia, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

As for these marginally pretty, marginally pubescent waifs?

Well, I suppose someone, somewhere, recognizes them. I'm sure their mothers (if plural?) love them. There are young men who'll find them appealing, and who won't kick them out of bed for having bony knees, or whatever.


I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis' admonition about reading old books, so as to not be a mental prisoner of the narrow range of years in which one happens to be born.

Excellent list, and I'm glad you like the blog.

Simon and Garfunkel
Phil and Don

I haven't bothered to try to find out, but I strongly suspect that those "waifs" are Kardashians. That would at least account for the presumption that everyone would recognize them.

I just looked up that image, and I found out that they are named Kylie and Kendall Jenner. I also found out (in a New York Magazine article) that the original creator of the meme does not see Kylie and Kendall as "iconic." It seems to have been entirely a joke, and part of the meme is to follow up this image with an image of some duo that it would be just as ridiculous, if not more so, to call iconic.

I hate to admit that I know this, or thought I did, so I checked to be sure, and I was right: they are members of the Kardashian family and part of that enterprise. I'm happy to hear that the original meme creator doesn't actually regard them as "iconic."

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