[ ahy-kon-ik ]
/ aɪˈkɒn ɪk /
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of, relating to, or characteristic of an icon.
Art. (of statues, portraits, etc.) executed according to a convention or tradition.
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Also i·con·i·cal .

Origin of iconic

1650–60; <Latin īconicus<Greek eikonikós, equivalent to eikon- (stem of eikṓn) icon + -ikos-ic


i·con·i·cal·ly, adverbi·co·nic·i·ty [ahy-kuh-nis-i-tee], /ˌaɪ kəˈnɪs ɪ ti/, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does iconic mean?

If something or someone is considered iconic, they’re very influential, recognizable, and revered, e.g., Rembrandt is an iconic painter.

Where does iconic come from?

Iconic, evidenced in the 1650s, originally referred to an icon, an “image” or “portrait,” as in a religious icon.

Zoom ahead to the 1950s, when an icon expanded to refer to someone who’s celebrated for representing a particular cultural phenomenon (as one may have revered a religious icon), e.g., a rock music icon. The adjective iconic expanded with it, as evidenced by at least the 1970s.

We speak of Albert Einstein as an iconic scientist or genius, or Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans as iconic pop artworks. We speak of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an iconic activist, or the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” as an iconic rap song.

Since the term iconic implies influence and stature, the word has further evolved (some would argue diluted) to mean “significant” or “noteworthy” more generally.

One example of this definition shift comes from YouTube star Emilia Fart. In 2018, Fart became, well, something of an icon of feminism and body positivity in the online LGBTQ community. Her videos feature absurdist content meant to make us rethink social norms. She encourages people to be iconic—in her universe, to unabashedly and unforgivingly be one’s strange but fabulous self.

How is iconic used in real life?

Iconic is widely used to describe incredibly successful and influential people who epitomize (and/or ushered in) some significant cultural moment, or who might otherwise be idolized for their actions or talents.

Iconic also, of course, extends to cultural products, like movies or songs, that have a profound impact on the zeitgeist.

In the popular lexicon, though, iconic can also refer to something more generally notable, recognizable, memorable, or popular in some way, à la the slang word classic.

That said, many might grumble that the term is overused or misused.

More examples of iconic:

“The remarkable stories behind 8 of the most iconic war photos ever taken”
—Daniel Brown, Business Insider (headline), December 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use iconic in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for iconic



/ (aɪˈkɒnɪk) /

relating to, resembling, or having the character of an icon
(of memorial sculptures, esp those depicting athletes of ancient Greece) having a fixed conventional style
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012