What have the Lollipop Person of the Year Competition and Lady Gaga’s sunglasses got in common? Oh come on, it’s not that hard. The answer is they are among the 26,000 things that have been described as iconic in the press in the last three months.
Iconicity (iconicism? iconification?), my made-up word meaning “the tendency to write that something is iconic because you can’t be bothered to think of an accurate way to describe it”, is up by a factor of about six since the millennium. Look at this graph of the use of the word in the European press. The source, as ever, is Factiva.
(If you think this is all down to overcaffeinated PR people, I think you’re wrong. Of the 46,000-odd mentions of “iconic” since the beginning of 2008, only 143 came from PR Newswire. This one’s simply lazy journalism, it seems.)
I think some of the explosive growth comes from the need to write about inexplicably famous people who don’t have an obvious talent. Calling their hair, their outfits or their body parts “iconic” is handy when there’s just nothing polite we can say.
Perhaps this is why, when I think of the word iconic, I think of money and effluent. So I had a look to see how often the word is popping up in the accountancy press and among waste management writers.
It pleases me that, in this category, the word iconic comes up most often in articles about the stuff that the industry calls solid waste.