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Is iconic the new ironic?

A recent Google search for the word ironic yielded 24.1 million hits, and one for iconic yielded only 11 million. But I say iconic is rapidly becoming one of the top overused, overrated, and sometimes misused words in current usage.

That's not good for careful writers and readers.

I've always shivered reading the word and the use of ironic--not only because of its casual frequency but almost as often because of the misuse of its meaning. Whatever happened, for example, to coincidental, paradoxical, and surprising?

Like that other beat-to-death word literal, ironic has frequently been downgraded to a general intensifier. For example, I literally died laughing. Ironically, she survived the accident.

So I literally and half-ironically laughed when I read that one of The New York Times' indicators of our current culture was the frequency of the newspaper's own use of the words ironic and irony 2001-2006.

The Times' ran an Op-Chart by Ben Schott, "Five Years of Consequence," upon the occasion of the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Other benchmarks for the period 2001-2006 included significant news events; George W. Bush's weight (up) and blood pressure (down); presidential approval ratings (up and then way down); winners of Nobel Prizes, Tonys, Oscars, Pulitzers; unemployment rates; the Dow Jones Industrial Average; winners of all the major sports competitions. You get the idea.

But in the middle of all those societal benchmarks lay Schott's tradectory of the paper's use of irony and ironic (it's higher now).

I wonder if that's the newspaper's admission of its excessive use of the word or if it's a nod to our post-modern age of irony. Because the word has lost its meaning in so many instances, my question will go unanswered.

Anyway, iconic is rapidly gaining on ironic.

That's not good for careful writers and readers. In the mass media, I imagine some iconoclasts will soon be described as iconic.

I live near the Taconic State Parkway, a scenic road built in the 1930s by the CCC that sweeps through a 100-mile wooded park from Westchester County to the Massachusetts border.

At its southern entrance a sign says it's "The Flagship Parkway of America." What are the new marketing guys going to come up with? "The Iconic Taconic"? And don't tell me that would be ironic.

* As we go to press, this footnote bumps a planned pull-quote. The day after I wrote the above sentence, I read the obituary for the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci described as an "iconoclastic journalist who became an icon herself"--in The New York Times.
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Author:Swift, Paul
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 18, 2006
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