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The Hidden Homophony in ‘Icon(ic)’

No one exposed to contemporary media language can have missed the gross overuse of the words ‘icon’ and ‘iconic’ in American English. The grotesque surfeit of their occurrence has now reached the point where the Los Angeles Times has reportedly banned them from its pages (along with legend and legendary as applied to persons).

How to explain their rise in ubiquity? The terminologization of icon in computer-speak could be a contributory factor, but a more proximate cause may lurk in something virtual, viz. the homophony of the initial vowel with the words I and eye. Nothing is more important to the notional content of the contemporary meanings of icon and iconic than their epitomic connotations of SELFHOOD (as embodied in the first person singular pronoun) and of SEEING (as embodied in name of the organ of sight). This explanation rises in plausibility when seen as a variation on Euclid’s pons asinorum as applied to language.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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