ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 5 19:51:35 UTC 2013

The meaning of icon has changed and broadened in the past half
century, I think. The OED has the following draft addition.

Draft additions March 2001

A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol, esp. of a
culture or movement; a person, institution, etc., considered worthy of
admiration or respect. Freq. with modifying word.

1952   C. S. Holmes in Pacific Spectator Spring 248/2   ‘The Diamond
as Big as the Ritz’, the work of a high-spirited young man turning a
critical eye upon a national icon, satirically fabulizes the American
Mr. Moneybags.

1975   Business Week (Nexis) 12 May 74   A large number of freshmen
Congressmen sympathetic to knocking down institutional icons such as
the ICC and CAB.

1980   Christian Sci. Monitor (Electronic ed.) 11 Feb. b11   Defining
his icons as cultural phenomena, Wolfe devotes a chapter each to the
spaceship, the city, the wasteland, the robot, and the monster.

1988   Sci. Amer. Feb. 67/3   Already an icon for young Indian
intellectuals, the 32-year-old Ramanujan died on April 26, 1920.

1995   Hispanic Mar. 36/1   An American icon, the pickup truck has
evolved from its role as a functional, less-than-glamorous work
vehicle, into the sporty, headline-grabbing image of models like the
Ford Bronco.

2000   Sunday Mail (Electronic ed.) 2 Jan.,   Hollywood's female gay
icons Jodie Foster, Susan Sarandon and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Here are two examples in which the term icon is linked to Emmett Till.

Title: The Best American Essays 2001
Page: GB 263
Editor: Robert Atwan
Year: 2001
(Google Books data; Snippet view only; Data may be inaccurate)

[Begin extracted text]
The body of Emmett Till — "his head . . . swollen and bashed in, his
mouth twisted and broken" — became a new kind of icon. Emmett Till
showed the world exactly what white supremacy looked like. According
to one report, Till's funeral ...
[End extracted text]

I have not seen this book on paper. A web page at
www.betterbookprices.com has a long book description indicating that
the words above are probably from the influential essay "Exquisite
Corpse" by Ashraf Rushdy. In the excerpt above the physical
manifestation of Till in death is labeled "a new kind of icon". This
use of icon may fit the OED notion of a "representative symbol".

Periodical: Jet
Date: Jun 20, 2005
Volume: 107
Number: 25
(Google Books full view)

[Begin excerpt]
Nearly 50 years after Emmett Till's battered body was found in a
Mississippi river, federal investigators unearthed the Chicago teen's
casket in hopes of finding clues to a murder that became an icon for
the brutality of racism and helped galvanize the Civil Rights
[End excerpt]

Here the murder viewed as a transformative event is labeled an icon.
To fit the OED analysis one might say that Tills death is a
"representative symbol" of racism.

The two examples above do not label Till himself an icon, but
semantics of icon has continued to evolve.

On Sun, May 5, 2013 at 1:47 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "icon"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> But it isn't, you know, kind of a downer to call somebody a "martyr" right
> there on TV?  And isn't that a word favored by Islamic fundamentalist
> suicide/homicide bombers?
> No, the associations are all wrong.
> "Slain Civil Rights victim...." is a definite contender.
> On the other hand, no one is really a "victim" unless they choose to be.
> They are "survivors." So "slain Civil Rights survivor..." should work.
> JL
> On Sun, May 5, 2013 at 10:26 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>> Subject:      Re: "icon"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> At 5/5/2013 07:54 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> >In today's version, it's "_slain_ Civil Rights icon Emmett Till."  Usually
>> >the phrase you hear is "slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King,"
>> >but since Till wasn't a "leader," the only alternative in media Inglish is
>> >"icon."
>> This is exactly why I wondered about a progression (in some people's
>> and cable networks' minds).
>> An alternative to "leader" for Emmett Till might be "martyr" (more
>> honored and significant than simply a "victim").  We all know who the
>> greatest martyr in human history is.  He has become an idol.  And
>> icons have been painted, carved, etc. for him.
>> Thus "martyr" to "idol" to "icon".
>> Joel
>> >It would take too long - apparently - to tell millennials-on-brain-support
>> >just who Emmett Till  was. You know, "a young black teenager kidnaped,
>> >beaten, and murdered by white racists in 1955."
>> >
>> >"Civil Rights icon" is just cooler.
>> >
>> >JL
>> >
>> >
>> >On Sun, May 5, 2013 at 1:42 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
>> >
>> > > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> > > -----------------------
>> > > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> > > Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
>> > > Subject:      Re: "icon"
>> > >
>> > >
>> >
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> > >
>> > > On Sat, May 4, 2013 at 7:42 PM, Jonathan Lighter <
>> wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com
>> > > >wrote:
>> > >
>> > > > Honestly, I don't think "martyr" or "idol" has anything to do with
>> it.
>> > >
>> > >
>> > > *Especially* not in the case cited. Victim? Yes. "Icon"?! No!
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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