“Icicle,” Another Good Word Down the Tubes

By Maeve Maddox

I became aware of what is happening to the lovely word icicle when I read a poem in which it was spelled “ice sickle.” There was nothing in the context to suggest that the poet intended a pun.

A web search showed me that there’s a comic book character called Ice Sickle.

Numerous clever photographers have posted pictures of icicles shaped like sickles and tagged them “ice sickle.”

Many of the thousands of hits on “ice sickle” certainly refer to the comic book character or are deliberate punnings. However, as is inevitable when pop culture gets hold of a pun, it’s not long before the original word falls into obscurity.

Hi. I installed gutter toppers on my eaves this summer….How should I hang my strands on ice sickle lights being that the toppers are now in the way? Thanks!

Reverse Ice Sickle – in my dog’s water bowl. I took this picture [this] morning. … It is shaped like a triangle at its base.

Pictures and albums about Icesickles published in outdoors

Black and white ice sickles on my front porch after all the snow started to melt and refreeze. (Note: The photo shows standard icicles.)

For those who may not be familiar with the standard meanings, here are some definitions from the OED:

sickle: a. An agricultural implement similar in form and use to a reaping-hook, but properly distinguished from this by having a serrated cutting-edge. Figuratively, something having the curved or crescent form of a sickle…

icicle: A pendent ice-formation resembling a rod tapering downward to a point, produced by the freezing of successive drops of water falling or trickling from the point of attachment, as from the eaves of a house or other overhanging point.

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13 Responses to ““Icicle,” Another Good Word Down the Tubes”

  • Paul Russell

    Maeve, not time to panic yet. Google shows 19,400 pages with “ice sickle” – and many of those relate to the comic character – 14,400 for “icesickle” but 1,780,000 for “icicle.”

    –paul

  • Paul Russell

    …which for some reason made me wonder about “test tickle”;-)

    61,000 pages!

    –paul

  • knowman

    Good words are only gone when people who know better let them go.

    I’ve found a gentle correction usually works, as it’s usually just an instance of not knowing any better. If it doesn’t, a thorough mocking usually makes me feel better at least.

  • Vic

    When you say “down the tubes,” to which tubes are you referring? I guess that’s another post in the making.

    This is a good little article. These days we’re lucky to see when any word is correctly used, let alone, spelled the right way. I sincerely doubt that most people can spell icicle if asked to do so. And I don’t think they’d know what a sickle is. The Soviet symbol was a hammer and sickle, but who uses a sickle any more except peasants? Icicles, on the other hand, are ubiquitous in the winter months. You’d think the word was used a gazillion times in the news from December through February.

    Enough of this. I’m going out for an I scream cone.

  • Roberta B.

    …..and it may get even less familiar with global warming. Ha!

  • Stephen Thorn

    Icicles/ice sickles — sounds to me like another poor fool has fallen under the insidious thrall of SpellChecker.

  • AmaT

    Yes, icicle is a beautiful word. I agree with knowman. We must keep correcting and hold on to the beauty of our language.
    I will not easily let go!

  • P.A. Hosler

    I’m with Stephen Thorn on this one, it is spellchecker abuse. When I am really in doubt I grab my desk dictionary or I use dictionary.com. Errors like icicle and ice sickle are a direct result of ignorance and laziness.

  • Monte

    Hi Maeve … I shared this article with a friend of mine. She replied:

    “that writer annoys me monte! icicle will never be replaced by ice sickle and it is barely valid when clearly all his case examples are illiterate americans. ”

    I’m sure she’s got your point the wrong way around. Could you please confirm this.

  • Cecily

    Accepting a wrong suggestion from a spell checker like this has become known as a “cupertino”.

    See http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002911.html

  • Lorian Rivers

    Another sad commentary on the state of education…

  • AaronT

    Well, I can’t say that I didn’t think that was the case either…Anyways thanks for informing me I was mispronouncing it 🙂 and I’ll keep a lookout for things like that. It’s really interesting seeing what the English language will transform into next.

  • Conrad Robovsky

    Don’t I know you from somewhere…?

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