• iconoclast •
ai-kahn-ê-klæst • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Someone who destroys religious images (icons). 2. Someone who changes an artistic, scientific, or other paradigm, or overthrows traditional ideas and replaces them with new ones.
Notes: Today's Good Word brings with it an adjective, iconoclastic and an adverb, iconoclastically. There is also a noun, iconoclasm. The original iconoclasts destroyed countless religious images, or icons, that they believed were being worshipped in defiance of the commandment not to worship "graven images". The iconoclasm that produced today's Good Word reached a peak in the 8th and 9th century in Greece. However, many instances of literal iconoclasm occurred prior to and since this instance.
In Play: Iconoclasts are not merely eccentrics, but are people who intentionally break conventions to establish new ones. Picasso was the quintessential iconoclast of 20th century art. Andy Warhol was another. Martin Luther was an iconoclast in religion. Karl Marx was the most widely influential iconoclast in economics of the 19th century. Peter II (the Great) was an iconoclastic political leader; he built Saint Petersburg as his window on the West, through which flowed many, many Western ideas.
Word History: This word entered English in the 1590s from French iconoclaste, which it inherited from Latin. Latin borrowed the word from late Greek eikonoklastes, based on eikon "image" + klastes "breaker". We don't know how eikon came to be in Greek, but we know quite a bit about klas-. The same root produced Latin calamita "damage" that came to English as calamity. It has a high profile in the Slavic languages: Russian kolot' "to chop" and klin "nail", and Czech klát "tree stump", among others. (Susan Ardith Lee suggested today's Good Word from among the iconoclasts of the Alpha Agora; we owe her our gratitude.)