icon·​o·​clast ī-ˈkä-nə-ˌklast How to pronounce iconoclast (audio)
: a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions
: a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration
iconoclastic adjective
iconoclastically adverb

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For the Meaning of Iconoclast, Break It Down

Iconoclast comes from the Greek word eikonoklastēs, which translates literally as “image destroyer.” While the destruction wrought by today’s iconoclasts is figurative—in modern use, an iconoclast is someone who criticizes or opposes beliefs and practices that are widely accepted—the first iconoclasts directed their ire at religious icons, those representations of sacred individuals used as objects of veneration. The Byzantine Empire’s Iconoclastic Controversy occurred in the 8th and 9th centuries, but the word iconoclast didn’t find its way to English until the 17th century. Figurative use came later still.

Example Sentences

notorious as an iconoclast, that music critic isn't afraid to go after sacred cows
Recent Examples on the Web And his vision, forged in the early 2000s after years as a record and publishing executive in Europe, has evolved from the left-field ideas of an industry iconoclast to conventional wisdom as the music business has been buoyed back to a period of growth by streaming revenue. Dan Rys, Billboard, 11 Oct. 2021 The Clam Shack’s roll is a delicious iconoclast, eschewing the classic split-top bun for a round, locally baked yeast roll. Virginia M. Wright, Outside Online, 18 June 2020 Dave Soldier is an iconoclast, trying to expand our idea of what music can be. Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker, 27 Mar. 2023 The company was something of an iconoclast. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, 23 Apr. 2023 Prince was a genius iconoclast. Matt Wake | Mwake@al.com, al, 1 Sep. 2020 Nicks is a devotee of love and an iconoclast; her evocative lyrics are both mythic and grounded in reality. Coralie Kraft, The New Yorker, 24 Mar. 2023 Five years later, Arit John reported, progressives are betting that Arizona has moved far enough to the left that Democrats don’t need to rely on an iconoclast like Sinema to win. David Lautersenior Editor, Los Angeles Times, 3 Feb. 2023 Orion’s first year lineup included major stars, like jam kings Dave Matthews Band and rock iconoclast Jack White, who’d never performed in Huntsville before (and likely wouldn’t have ever without Orion). Matt Wake | Mwake@al.com, al, 16 Nov. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'iconoclast.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Medieval Latin iconoclastes, from Middle Greek eikonoklastēs, literally, image destroyer, from Greek eikono- + klan to break — more at clast

First Known Use

1641, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of iconoclast was in 1641


Dictionary Entries Near iconoclast

Cite this Entry

“Iconoclast.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/iconoclast. Accessed 29 May. 2023.

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