Words of the Week

The Words of the Week - Sept. 16

Dictionary lookups from Ukraine, Britain, and cinema

people waiting in long line

’Iconoclastic’ & ‘Iconoclast’

A famed French-Swiss film director passed away recently, and the number of uses of iconoclast and iconoclastic increased dramatically.

Jean-Luc Godard, Iconoclastic Film Director of the French New Wave, Dies at 91
— (headline) Vanity Fair, 13 Sept. 2022

Emmanuel Macron, Edgar Wright, Paul Feig React to Death of ‘Iconoclast’ Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard
— (headline) Rolling Stone, 13 Sept. 2022

An iconoclast may be either “a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions” or “a person who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration.” The second definition is, in a sense, the more literal of the two, as the word comes from the Greek eikonoklastēs, which translates literally as “image destroyer.” Iconoclastic, the adjectival form, has a number of closely-related meanings, such as “of or relating to iconoclasm or iconoclasts,” “being or befitting an iconoclast,” or “tending to produce iconoclasm or overthrow what is established.”


A number of words (such as monarchy, royalty, and duty) have trended sharply in lookups after the death of Queen Elizabeth; as crowds gathered in a relatively neat line to view her coffin the word queue saw increased interest as well.

Everyone’s saying the same thing about the nine-hour long queue to see the Queen’s coffin - ‘This is the queue that British people have been training for for decades’
— (headline) Independent (London, Eng.), 15 Sept. 2022

Queue, when used in this sense, is “a waiting line especially of persons or vehicles.” The word has additional meanings, such as “a braid of hair usually worn hanging at the back of the head,” and “the tailpiece of a violin or other stringed instrument.” Queue is occasionally the source of some confusion, as it is pronounced the same way as a number of other words, most of which have different spellings and meanings (such as Que, q, and cue).


Other words which saw greatly increased interest in the weeks following Queen Elizabeth’s death were those related to the matter of colonialism.

Queen Elizabeth II's Death Is a Chance to Examine the Present-Day Effects of Britain's Colonial Past
— (headline) Time, 13 Sept. 2022

For Indigenous Australians, painful colonial past mars queen’s legacy
— (headline) The Washington Post, 15 Sept. 2022

Over the centuries, Britain extracted wealth from those colonized lands — by one estimate, $45 trillion in today’s dollars from India alone.
— Caroline Houck, Vox.com, 13 Sept. 2022

Future British monarchs must right the wrongs of colonialism
— (headline) The Hill, 14 Sept. 2022

Don’t ask me to give the Queen a minute’s silence, ask me for the truth about British colonialism
— (headline) The Guardian (London, Eng.), 13 Sept. 2022

Colonial, when used as an adjective, has a fair number of meanings, including “having the status of a colony,” “possessing or composed of colonies,” or “made or prevailing during a colonial period.” The word can be traced to the Latin colere, meaning “to cultivate.” Colonialism, on the other hand, is defined as “domination of a people or area by a foreign state or nation : the practice of extending and maintaining a nation's political and economic control over another people or area.”

In contexts dealing with the domination of a people or area by a foreign power, colonialism and imperialism are often used together with no real distinction in meaning. Used separately, however, each of these words can take on a slightly different emphasis. Colonialism tends to be applied in contexts addressing the effects that colonialism has on the lives of those living in colonies. Imperialism (a word closely related to empire) tends to place more emphasis on the ruling power and its intent to expand its dominion, as well as on the expanded empire itself, with its distinct parts subsumed under the banner of the dominating force.


Ukraine appeared to have gained momentum last week in their ongoing conflict with the invasive Russian army, and as a result counteroffensive spiked dramatically in lookups.

The encouraging counteroffensive has lifted Ukrainian morale and prompted criticism within Russia of President Vladimir Putin’s "special military operation.”
— John Bacon and Jorge L. Ortiz, USA Today, 12 Sept. 2022 

A counteroffensive is “a large-scale military offensive undertaken by a force previously on the defensive”; it contrasts with the sense of offensive that we define as “the act of an attacking party” or “an attack.”

Words Worth Knowing: ‘Jocoserious’

Our word worth knowing this week is jocoserious, defined in our 1934 Unabridged Dictionary as “mingling mirth and seriousness.” The noun, referring to an instance of such mingling, is jocoseriosity.

A joco-serious discourse in two dialogues between a Northumberland-gentleman and his tenant, a Scotchman, both old cavaliers
— (title of book) George Stuart, 1686

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