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Icon, the Word for Salesmen, Lost All Impact, Attained Plague Status

Updated on February 11, 2017


If you read a lot of newspapers and magazines, and watch above-the-radar people on TV, you will see the overuse of the word icon, or iconic dozens of times per day. Bob Dylan, the legendary folk singer, who is receiving the Medal of Freedom, called the word "another word for a washed-up has-been."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1952 the word crept into usage as a person that is looked up to. It came from Latin who got it from the Greeks. It showed up in English in 1572 and meant a likeness. Originally, the Eastern Orthodox Church used images of saints and martyrs as part of their holy lexicon, painted on wooden panels, and called them icons.

Now it is used by writers in the media, car salesmen, real estate salesmen, Hollywood promoters, and many more boosters and cheerleaders for everything from famous people to company autos, and a long list of ridiculous items. Playboy Magazine uses the word icon constantly to describe about every has- been as ridiculous as porn stars, to Marilyn Monroe's classic photo above the subway grate, and now a statue in Chicago. People take refuge from the rain under Monroe's iconic underdrawers. Apparently Playboys' writers are hired for their lack of language skills and literary acumen. The latest issue of Playboy, June 12, 2012, calls Jack Kerouac an icon. This diminished Kerouac, who is and was heralded by aficianados of American Literature as a great cult writer of the 50"s and 60's Beat Movement.

If you look through every dictionary in 20 book stores around the nation, you will not see any definitions that resemble its present usage. The impact of the word has been diminished by its constant use to brand and sell something, somebody or a place of some interest. When a writer is trying to get attention to their article, for example about a bridge in England, they throw in the word icon to increase the impact of a boring article. The overuse is indicative of the demise of the American Culture in general, and the disintegration of the English amateurs who control the media now. We used to have high quality and well educated, literate writers. The education level of a large majority of Americans is at a historical low.

There are many high impact words that writers in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times could use from a Thesaurus (in English, a word treasure) such as; renown, legendary, famous, well-known, celebrated, distinguished, eminent, famed, illustrious, noted, preeminent, prominent, and many others, that still have an impact on educated people.

The word icon and iconic has become a plague on the American scene. It is an example of Gene Shepherd's (WOR Radio in NYC) historic description of "creeping slobbism" as a fact of American life. If a person from another country landed in New York City, picked up 3 newspapers and a playboy, watched TV at night, he very well could see the word 25 times in two hours. The next morning at a coffee shop, he may well ask an educated American, likely an English Major from NYU, what the word signifies. The answer should be "everything and everybody in the U.S. is an icon, it means nothing, and describes things as far out as Marilyn Monroe's underdrawers visible above the subway grate, in her classic photo, to Stonewall Jackson's sword, and Abraham Lincoln's smokestack black hat at Antietem"


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