Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wednesday Word: Iconoclast

When I was a wee girl and my mother and I lived in Greece, English reading material was hard to come by--unless, like me, you read your fifth grade English textbook because it had some stories in it. Mostly, we relied on loved ones sending us (me) care packages of books. I also got a Mad Magazine subscription, of which I saw sporadic delivery. (We lived on Santorini, and mail was delivered to a poste restante address. I always thought the subscription department at Mad must have gone, "This is a far out address, who is getting Mad there?") Usually we could get an Athens-based newspaper in English that was produced for ex-pats (I thought it was The Athenian, but Google reveals nothing of the sort). A magazine shop that I knew of in a certain part of the island tended to stock comic books in English. I was never into comic books, but man I devoured those. I had to.

There were a few presses in Athens that printed English books, some for Greeks learning English as a second language. I was about eleven, and I remember getting an ESL copy of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, and I absolutely loved it.

One book we got that was written by an Irish travelwriter and printed by an English Athenian press was called The Greek Gods: An Iconoclast's Guide. The book delves into the myths and each God, and gives a nice, short, and quite humorous roundup of the Gods and their often bad behavior. I still have this book.

I never fully understood what iconoclast meant until I looked it up, despite thinking I understood it because we had this book. Being eleven, I thought I'd go ahead and figure it out; didn't I teach myself what the semicolon was used for based on reading books and watching its use? Hadn't I learned many things I didn't really need to learn at age eleven by reading the bodice-ripper novels discarded by tourists at the hotels? Hadn't I discovered that fine literature can and did include fan books on Culture Club when one is a voracious reader and starved for reading material? Indeed. So, I assumed iconoclast referred to someone who was an independent thinker.

Actually, it means one who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional and popular ideas or institutions or one who seeks to destroy sacred religious images. (I guess you could say that's an independent thinker.) Oh my. Now this is a much different meaning that I ever thought. But, in reference to the most excellent guide to the Greek Gods, I can't say that the author, one Maureen O'Sullivan, was truly challenging ideas of the Greek Gods or overthrowing the traditional myths. No, from what I understand and from other Greek myth study, Ms. O'Sullivan was merely condensing the myths and descriptions of the Gods into palatable and humorous doses. Perhaps her use of the word was tongue-in-cheek.

Either way, the word iconoclast is beautiful, if perhaps somewhat specific in its use. Did you know this word? Do you have any experiences with it? Please leave them in the comments.

And P.S. I know my Nemesis is thinking "Ooooooh, Sierra is iconoclastic against me," but whatevers, we all know he is iconoclastic against me, so pbbbbbbbhhhttthh.


Simon C. Larter said...

Incidentally, there some pretty significant iconoclastic riots in Scotland way back when, with ever-so-righteous reformers busting up Catholic churches because of the "unholy graven images AAAHHH!!!" (That's an actual quote from a contemporaneous document.) Though the meaning isn't so much the destruction of icons anymore, but seems to be used in terms of radical and counter-cultural thought or action.

And believe me, if I ever find graven images of Sierra, I'll clast the crap out of them. >:)

Linda G. said...

"Independent thinker" is when it's you. "Iconoclast" is when it's the other guy. ;)

Elizabeth Ryann said...

How come Linda always knows everything?

And for some reason my favorite words in English are always the one that are hilariously specific. Like iconoclast. Or defenestrate.

Linda Godfrey said...

I've actually been called "iconoclastic" in a book review because I tend to be the devil's advocate. I just like to cover all points of view. Does that make me a rebel?

Tahereh said...

yes! i remember googling this word after seeing it on like, the sundance channel or something. there was a show called "Iconoclasts" or.. something.


great word!

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Boy there was an iconoclast!

Dr. Goose said...

Mad Magazine? My grandfather passed his issues down to me when he died. I subscribed to it until I got to College. I know that is not the point of the post but it really struck a cord. I think I might go buy one right now.

demery bader-saye said...

Another good vocabulary lesson. I had a sense of the word before, but would have been hard pressed to give an accurate definition.

The Mad Magazine boy always reminds me of David Letterman :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Simon, a typical nemesis response.

Linda-- best comment ever. :)

Elizabeth, I love defenestrate too. I think I did that one before:

Linda, congrats. That's awesome! Yes, you're a rebel.

Tahereh, Hmm, a show? Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

Lt. - Good point! I believe he was. Sort of. At the time!

I tell you, Dr. Goose, Don Martin was genius!

Travener said...

Hulk smash your tiny icons! Hulk iconoclast!

Meghan Ward said...

"Iconoclast" was one of the words I learned when I was studying for the GRE. I love your stories about Greece, and I've always wanted to read one of those books about the Gods. I have Edith Hamilton's Mythology, but haven't gotten around to reading it. Someday!

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