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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition