I already expressed my dismay of the journalistic use of the word “icon” to refer to people who are merely super-famous. Some people agreed with me and others thought that Jackson deserved to be described as such. Still others thought that only old fuddy-duddies such as myself care about preserving original definitions.
So I wanted to highlight a column by humorist Joe Queenan that also takes aim at the incorrect use of the word.
After noting that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, among others, were granted “icon” status in the last month alone, Queenan writes:
Other icons were on the way. Karl Malden, star of both “On the Waterfront” and “The Streets of San Francisco,” was widely described as a screen and a television icon. Last week, Drake Levin of the harmless ’60s pop combo Paul Revere & the Raiders passed away. Sure enough, reports immediately came in that a guitar icon from an iconic group was no longer here to be iconographic. . . .
For a number of reasons, the term “icon” cannot be used the way it is currently being tossed about. If your nickname is Wacko Jacko, if you have forked over tens of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits in which you were accused of child abuse, the term “icon” is probably not le mot juste. “Iconic” carries with it a subtext of moral elegance. It is not interchangeable with “famous” or “powerful” or even “brilliant.” This is why Henry VIII, Attila the Hun, Oliver Cromwell and Satan are rarely described as “iconic.” They were interesting chaps, they put a lot of points on the scoreboard, and they changed the world forever. But iconic? No. . . .
This is just another case of hyperventilating journalists hijacking an otherwise admirable language because they are desperate to insert an infectious banality into their work and don’t care if it belongs there.
The push back has begun!