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 Despite spurning traditional models of success, the iconoclast became one of the planet's most popular and prolific rappers. Meaghan Garvey, Billboard, 1 Feb. 2023 While her fellow fashion designers have praised the iconoclast's brilliance and impact, supermodels and celebrities alike are sharing stories of the designer's generosity and creativity, along with pics of decades of her groundbreaking designs. Quinci Legardye, Harper's BAZAAR, 30 Dec. 2022 The millennial styled himself as an iconoclast with his embrace of bitcoin and fondness of backward baseball caps, but fears quickly mounted about his authoritarian tendencies. Tara John, CNN, 15 Dec. 2022 Björk is gonna Björk, and the Icelandic iconoclast's 10th studio album is no exception: dense, intrepid, wildly unpredictable, strangely moving. Ew Staff, EW.com, 30 Sep. 2022 On the top of his list was New York rap icon Nas and the alternative hip-hop iconoclast El-P. Sandra Guzmán, USA TODAY, 23 Sep. 2022 The iconoclast at the epicenter of the French New Wave and one of film’s most influential makers, Jean-Luc Godard, who died Tuesday at 91, leaves behind a colossal legacy of more than 100 feature films, shorts and documentaries. Los Angeles Times, 13 Sep. 2022 Musk initially cast himself as the swashbuckling iconoclast shaking up a stagnant company with his take-it-or-leave-it purchase offer. Nitasha Tiku, Washington Post, 1 July 2020 Ever the iconoclast, Kyrgios plays without a coach. New York Times, 6 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'iconoclast.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 22 Mar. 2023.

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