Errors & Omissions: From icon to iconoclast in just a few short centuries

Is it possible to be both an icon and an iconoclast? Well, if anybody can have it both ways it is probably the singer Grace Jones.

Daniel Simmons writes in from Herne Bay in Kent to draw attention to a review that appeared on Monday. In its first sentence Grace Jones was described as an "Eighties style icon", while near the end came this: "Such is Jones's image now, as an iconoclast, clothes horse and cultural symbol, that her music seems to take a back seat."

It is worth recalling the origins of "icon". It is a Greek word meaning image. It signifies particularly the painted religious images venerated in the Eastern Orthodox churches. Hence the modish meaning, a person or thing celebrated in popular culture as embodying the spirit of a period or movement. "Iconoclasm" means "image-breaking". The original Iconoclasm was a religious movement against icons in eighth-century Byzantium. Hence an iconoclast is a person who shockingly rejects things most people hold dear.

That an icon can also be an iconoclast is a dramatic illustration of how, with time, the meanings of words shift, split and shimmer like a mirage.

***

Full Marx: This column has from time to time railed against crass headlines that make arbitrary references to film titles. You know the sort of thing: An Aardvark Too Far; The Italian Aardvark; The Good, the Bad and the Aardvark. It is only right, then, that we should note a headline that makes genuinely witty use of a film title.

Agents of the Stasi, the hated former East German secret police, were supposed to have been purged from public service. Last Saturday a news story reported that 17,000 of them have been discovered still in state employment. Headline: "Germany shocked by the other lives of civil servants."

Note that the headline doesn't just quote a film title with a word changed; it takes the key words from the title The Lives of Others and puts them to apt use in the headline. And the film and the news story are actually about the same subject. Would that all such headlines fulfilled those elementary conditions.

***

Debauched language: Wednesday's bizarre story about an orgy in a Somerset country house inspired reporters to extraordinary flights of fancy. Our report included this sociological observation: "Exclusive swinging parties have long been a staple for the debauched doyens of Mayfair, but locals from the nearby village of Goathurst were flabbergasted." (Goathurst! You couldn't make it up.)

You can't help but wonder how much the reporter really knows about debauchery in Mayfair. He certainly doesn't know the meaning of the word "doyen". It has the same derivation as "dean" and means the senior member of a group. You see references to the doyen of the diplomatic corps or the doyen – or often the feminine doyenne – of a social circle.

Such associations with high society may have confused this writer. I think he probably meant "denizens" of Mayfair – native inhabitants, as opposed to foreigners. Incidentally, some people would object to "the nearby village", insisting that "nearby" is an adverb only and it should be "the neighbouring village". That is too pedantic even for this column.

***

Deeply meaningful: This is from a theatre review, published on Monday: "I'd like to think [the show] would work as a meaningful touchstone of wartime memories." That would be as opposed to a meaningless touchstone, I suppose. Just get rid of "meaningful".

"Touchstone" is an interesting exhibit from the Museum of Ancient Metaphors. Today, nobody uses one in daily life, but we all happily babble on about them. A touchstone is an abrasive stone used for testing the fineness of precious metals by the colour of the trace they leave when rubbed on it.

***

Capital error: The lunatic proliferation of a capital T on the word "the" has apparently reached the Army, if you believe a news story published on Monday: "The soldiers, from The Rifles regiment were part of a 30-man team." So it's "The Rifles"? So why not "The Welsh Guards" or "The Foreign Legion"?

I blame pop groups. When people started writing about "The Who" and "The Beatles" a madness was let loose. I say restrict "The" to the titles of literary and artistic works – The Marriage of Figaro, The Turn of the Screw – and periodicals with "The" on the masthead.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Recruitment Genius: Conveyancing Fee Earner / Technical Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Fee Earner/Techn...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This law firm is seeking a happy, helpful and ...

The Jenrick Group: Production Supervisor

£26000 - £29000 per annum + Holidays & Pension: The Jenrick Group: Production ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'