Definition of icon in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈīˌkän/


1 (also ikon) A 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.
Example sentences
  • The iconoclasts wanted to rid the church of images, icons, even paintings.
  • Many of her paintings are like expressionistic Byzantine icons.
  • Would an Eastern Orthodox priest bless an exhibition of, say, Byzantine icons at a Western museum?
image, idol, portrait, picture, representation, likeness, symbol, sign;
figure, statue
2A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: this iron-jawed icon of American manhood
More example sentences
  • America quickly embraced Pluto and Tombaugh as icons worthy of scientific superstardom, and the rest of the world quickly followed suit.
  • 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.
idol, paragon, hero, heroine;
celebrity, superstar, star;
favorite, darling
3 Computing A symbol or graphic representation on a screen of a program, option, or window, especially one of several for selection.
Example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Scrolling web-pages, opening icons, moving windows; these are all things which are controlled far more intuitively by your fingers than an input device.
4 Linguistics A sign whose form directly reflects the thing it signifies, for example, the word snarl pronounced in a snarling way.
Example sentences
  • Peirce distinguishes three types of sign - the icon, the index and the symbol.
  • An iconic sign/icon (from Greek eikon ‘replica’) provides a visual, auditory or any other perceptual image of the thing it stands for.


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

  • Greek eikōn, the source of icon, meant ‘likeness, image’. The earliest use in English was for a simile, a figure of speech in which two things are compared, as in ‘as white as snow’. Later it meant ‘a portrait, a picture’, and especially an illustration in a natural history book. The ‘portrait’ sense partly continues in the modern use for ‘a devotional painting of a holy figure’. The use to mean a celebrated figure such as a sporting or pop star dates from the early 1950s. Icons in computing, those symbols or graphic representations on VDU screens, appeared with the release of the Apple Macintosh computer in 1984. At various times in the history of the Christian Church, reformers, among them English Puritans in the 16th and 17th centuries, have condemned and destroyed religious images. Such a zealot is an iconoclast (mid 17th century), a breaker of images—the -clast bit is from Greek klan, ‘to break’. An iconoclast is now also a person who attacks a cherished belief or respected institution.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: i·con

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