When most of us hear the word “idol,” in our mind’s eye we see a triumphant David Cook or Carrie Underwood belting their hearts out.
And while the “idol” in “American Idol,” has connotations of success and inspiration, the dictionary tells us that the meaning of the word is more complicated.
An idol is a venerated man-made object, like a carved figure or a painting. Idols are worshiped as deities, and worshipers often treat idols as if they were alive. For example, it’s common practice for idols to be given food or bathed.
In the Christian and Jewish traditions, the word “idol” is used to refer to deities other than their own god. In this context, idol is a sign of blasphemy. One of the Ten Commandments (“You shall have no other gods before me”) prohibits idolatry.
In the popular talent show, the young idols don’t receive worship and prayer. But they do attract excessive adoration and envy. They are idolized.
This meaning of the word is likely what punk legend Billy Idol was after when he chose his stage name. Billy Idol was born William Michael Albert Broad. A teacher called Broad “idle” when he was young, inspiring his name.
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