Definition of icon in US English:



  • 1A painting of Jesus Christ or another holy figure, typically in a traditional style on wood, venerated and used as an aid to devotion in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches.

    • ‘Many of her paintings are like expressionistic Byzantine icons.’
    • ‘Artworks range from a Russian icon to creations of Cellini, Rembrandt, and Picasso.’
    • ‘The skills of many fine Bulgarian artisans can be seen in icons (religious paintings) and other church art.’
    • ‘Would an Eastern Orthodox priest bless an exhibition of, say, Byzantine icons at a Western museum?’
    • ‘The iconoclasts wanted to rid the church of images, icons, even paintings.’
    image, idol, portrait, likeness, representation, symbol, figure, statue, model
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  • 2A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.

    ‘this iron-jawed icon of American manhood’
    • ‘The special features include interviews with national and international fashion icons and creative personalities.’
    • ‘A British icon, a symbol of all that is decent and proper in this country, has been tarnished by wild allegations and screaming headlines.’
    • ‘Natalie Maines is another story: the Dixie Chicks are pop-country icons already and multi-platinum superstars.’
    • ‘Film icons, celebrities, and even pop stars would not be their usual selves without their trademark accessories - these are not just trendy but help make a personality.’
    • ‘There's also a surprise screening: It's big, it's something you are all dying to see, it stars action heroes and cult icons and it would be wrong to miss it.’
    • ‘The media has been promoting the idea, recently, that supermodels are being replaced by actors as celebrities and modern-day icons.’
    • ‘And in 1999, ‘Time’ magazine selected him as one of its 100 icons and heroes of the century.’
    • ‘The car is a two-faced modern symbol: a shiny icon of our freedom and our entrapment.’
    • ‘From time immemorial, or at least since the '50s, teens have been assembling scrapbooks and collections to celebrate their pop icons.’
    • ‘An object of derision though she may be to some, to others the celebrity fashion icon is a godsend, for rarely does she also possess a model figure.’
    • ‘Movie stars, fashionistas, pop, rock and soul icons and celebs without brains will battle for front seats.’
    • ‘Sporting icons are celebrities - they are paid extremely well for their achievements and some might suggest they have too much time on their hands.’
    • ‘This means a number of music stars are appearing as icons of the past: Usher as Marvin Gaye, Third Eye Blind as the Kinks and Richie Sambora as Eric Clapton, to name only a handful.’
    • ‘Not every culture can survive monsoons, British rule, and constant co-opting by fashion-obsessed pop icons.’
    • ‘In Ulster Kerry footballers were icons, heroes.’
    • ‘Third-world heroes have a tendency to be made into icons, symbols, and mere clichés.’
    • ‘America quickly embraced Pluto and Tombaugh as icons worthy of scientific superstardom, and the rest of the world quickly followed suit.’
    • ‘Politicians eagerly seek association with film icons; often stars shift seamlessly into politics, as done most famously by MG Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu.’
    • ‘We would urge celebrities and icons not to support energy dense foods and to make sure it is a genuinely healthy product they promote.’
    • ‘And in the 20th century, style icons from burlesque superstar Gypsy Rose Lee to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore Tiffany jewellery.’
    celebrity, star, superstar, famous person, great, genius, phenomenon, luminary, giant, big name
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  • 3Computing
    A symbol or graphic representation on a screen of a program, option, or window, especially one of several for selection.

    • ‘It also said that although the sales will come from services such as mobile phone graphics, icons, screen savers and novelty voice mail, it is ringtones that will dominate.’
    • ‘Just being able to choose a screen saver, organize icons, browse application menus and move files doesn't mean you are a productive member of society.’
    • ‘The left side of the program window contains icons for each module and you can access any part of the software at any time without having to back out of anything first.’
    • ‘To the left of this central section is the Quick Launch toolbar which has miniature icons of many programs that you can launch with just one click from the toolbar.’
    • ‘Scrolling web-pages, opening icons, moving windows; these are all things which are controlled far more intuitively by your fingers than an input device.’
  • 4Linguistics
    A sign whose form directly reflects the thing it signifies, for example, the word snarl pronounced in a snarling way.

    • ‘An iconic sign/icon (from Greek eikon ‘replica’) provides a visual, auditory or any other perceptual image of the thing it stands for.’
    • ‘Peirce distinguishes three types of sign - the icon, the index and the symbol.’


Mid 16th century (in the sense ‘simile’): via Latin from Greek eikōn ‘likeness, image’. Current senses date from the mid 19th century onwards.