Share this entry

icon Line breaks: icon
Pronunciation: /ˈʌɪkɒn/

Definition of icon in English:


1 (also ikon) A devotional painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically executed on wood and used ceremonially 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, likeness, representation, symbol, figure, statue, model
2A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration: 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.
3 Computing A symbol or graphic representation on a screen of a program, option, or window.
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 which has a characteristic in common with 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 onwards.

  • 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.

Words that rhyme with icon

stereopticon • walk-on • neocon

Definition of icon in:

Share this entry


What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources

Word of the day doofus
Pronunciation: ˈduːfʌs
a stupid person