Sunday, 17 April 2016

Unique, Incredible & Iconic

 These three words are driving me spare!

It is impossible to read or watch media without each of them being misused, overused, or simply dropped into the text or dialogue without any care or understanding of their meaning and usage.

Let’s begin with “unique”.

The dictionary meaning is “the embodiment of unique characteristics; the only specimen of a given kind.”

Yet how often is it applied to something slightly unusual, and more frequently than not, an adjective is attached, so we end up with stuff like – “very unique”. What part of “only” is not understood? Something is either unique or it isn’t. 

In that sense, it’s a bit like “pregnant”.

Then there's "incredible". The word means “so extraordinary as to seem impossible”.

To me, the extraordinary thing is the frequency with which it is applied breathlessly to some situation or performance of note. It seems to be one of the few descriptive words known by your average sporting commentator. Taken literally, we’ve seen a rash of extraordinary and/or impossible performances recently. 

Perhaps these performances have become so commonplace that before too long a whole new lexicon will have to be invented. The sky’s the limit.

Perhaps we can begin to use words nicked from other languages. How about “giaman”? (Pidgin). 
It doesn’t mean “incredible”, by the way.

But the one that really gives me the irits* is “icon”.

The funny thing about this word is that it lay dormant for a very long time, and then suddenly (about five years ago, I reckon), it exploded on to the scene.

Years ago, when I was studying comparative religion, was the first time I remember coming across this word. It was presented in the context of artistic renderings of religious symbols and was usually applied to representations of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, usually painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church.

So how did it come to be applied to people who have become well known? What is religious about celebrity? That’s quite a semantic stretch.

I guess that celebrity worship, often driven by marketing, has become a product of contemporary culture in the absence of more traditional belief systems.

But the change in meaning is an enormous leap from the original.

I know – English is a living language, but that doesn’t excuse treating well established meaning like yesterday’s food packaging.

Don’t get me going on the packaging industry………….

*Maybe if I use this it will become fashionable.


Bob's a fool said...

At last some common ground Bob but you forgot to include the word Hero and its derivatives

Anonymous said...

What is your take on the word "marriage", Robert?

1735099 said...

I don't have a "take" (whatever that means), but the dictionary says any of the diverse forms of interpersonal union established in various parts of the world to form a familial bond that is recognized legally, religiously, or socially.
That's good enough for me.

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