Rantings of a sub-editor

March 5, 2010

Iconic behemoths

Filed under: iconic behemoths,word choice — substuff @ 1:01 pm
Tags: , ,

Behemoths roam the country! Beware, beware! Rarely, it seems, do we mention a large company without referring to it in the following paragraph as “the retail behemoth”, “the soft drinks behemoth”, “the lollipop behemoth” (okay, so I made the last one up) etc.

Let’s take a moment here. A behemoth is a big scary monster, a “huge or monstrous creature”, according to the OED.

More specifically, it is a big scary monster from the Book of Job.

Behold now the behemoth that I have made with you; he eats grass like cattle. Behold now his strength is in his loins and his power is in the navel of his belly. His tail hardens like a cedar; the sinews of his tendons are knit together. His limbs are as strong as copper, his bones as a load of iron. His is the first of God’s ways; [only] his Maker can draw His sword [against him].

I would suggest, therefore, that this is not a synonym for ‘supermarket’. Lets save it for the very big and powerful – and let’s use it sparingly. It’s a bloody fantastic word and deserves to be treated as such. Bring on the metaphors – but make them work.

Another one is ‘iconic’. Now I know I have ranted about this before, but I’ll say it again: it does not just mean impressive, well-established or famous.

Here’s the OED definition:

icon:
a painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically in a traditional style on wood, venerated and used as an aid to devotion in the Byzantine or other Eastern churches.
A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: this iron-jawed icon of American manhood

Iconic:
of, or relating to, the nature of an icon

So Robertson’s jam is not iconic. Unless you worship it (yes, yes, I am sure there are those that do). Neither is the Cadbury bunny. Or L’Oreal’s “because I’m worth it” strapline. Coca-Cola could perhaps be referred to as iconic. Or the WeightWatchers points system. People do, after all, appear to openly worship both. But again, let’s keep ‘iconic’ true to its meaning and not use it willynilly to describe any old impressive thing.

Yes. Let that be a lesson to you, world!

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