Thursday, 8 July 2010


I am going to start a campaign against the devaluation of the word iconic. Television and radio reporters and presenters throw it in when they can't think a better adjective. When I was at school we were taught never to use the word nice except when it meant 'precise' or 'neat', as in a 'nice distinction' - instead of the usual sloppy equivalent of 'pleasant'. 'Iconic' seems to have become a catch-all word, meaning anything from 'big', 'typical', 'unique to'. For example, you have 'iconic' Herdwick sheep in the Lake District, 'iconic' ponies in the New Forest, 'iconic' cattle in Jersey or the Highlands; the 'iconic' gherkin in London, Pompidou Centre in Paris, Sears Tower in Chicago etc etc. In other words, "I'm too lazy to think of any other hyperbole to describe this object." (If I may do a short boris [excursion into Classics, after Tsar Boris of London], 'iconic' comes from the Greek word eikon meaning 'likeness, image, picture' via what we call icons to 'of or pertaining to an icon; of the nature of a portrait'.) So I'm starting a movement to protest against this abject misuse of the licence payers' money. We don't pay all that money to employ a bunch of illiterate oiks - do we?

When Grace Sheppard was here, she was sitting in our garden early when she witnessed a bee alight on our amerlanchia bush next to her and proceed to saw a neat round hole in a leaf and fly off with it. We looked it up in our insect book and found out about this fascinating behaviour. It was a female leaf-cutter bee, making its nest. It rolls up its cut-up leaves to make single-cells in a tunnel, lays an egg in the bottom, provisions it with honey and pollen, seals it with a leaf, and then makes another cell and so on. All the eggs are female, except the last one. Which she seals in and then she goes off and dies. The eggs hatch and become larvae enjoying their late mum's larder, hibernate through the winter and next year begin to emerge, the male first who then hangs around on a convenient 'street corner' until the females arrive eager for him to do his stuff...! And so it goes on - marvellous. You can see good pictures on, but this one is from our garden.


  1. Ah, but words change their meanings over time. "Awesome," another much misused word, over the last quarter century has come to meant great, at least in America. And "neat," in the US, now just means nice or cool. So I guess, sadly, iconic is now beginning to mean a "typical representative."

  2. ''tis true 'tis pity, And pity 'tis 'tis true"! It's sad when the original force of a vivid word gets adulterated, don't you think?