Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Iconoclast

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is iconoclast. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Iconoclast originally referred to someone who destroys religious images or who opposes their veneration. It is now used to refer broadly to anyone who attacks widely accepted beliefs or institutions.

// The comedian had developed a reputation as a contrarian and an iconoclast for whom no topic was off-limits.


“David Bowie was the ultimate iconoclast, a man who took his unique vocal instrument and used it to reinvent rock music almost album to album. From otherworldly Ziggy Stardust to the ethereal Thin White Duke, Bowie played fast and loose with style and sexuality throughout a five-decade career.” — Marco della Cava, USA Today, 28 May 2022

Did You Know?

Iconoclast comes from the Greek word eikonoklastēs, which translates literally as “image destroyer.” While the destruction wrought by today’s iconoclasts is figurative—in modern use, an iconoclast is someone who criticizes or opposes beliefs and practices that are widely accepted—the first iconoclasts directed their ire at religious icons, those representations of sacred individuals used as objects of veneration. The Byzantine Empire’sIconoclastic Controversy occurred in the 8th and 9th centuries, but the word iconoclast didn’t find its way to English until the 17th century. Figurative use came later still.

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