AskDefine | Define symbols

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. plural of symbol



  1. genetive of symbol

Extensive Definition

The musical instrument is spelled cymbal.
Symbols are objects, pictures, or other concrete representations of ideas, concepts, or other abstractions. For example, in the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, a red octagon is a symbol for "STOP".
Common examples of symbols are the symbols used on maps to denote places of interest, such as crossed sabres to indicate a battlefield, and the numerals used to represent numbers. Common psychological symbols are the use of a gun to represent a penis or a tunnel to represent a vagina. See: phallic symbol and yonic symbol.
All languages are made up of symbols. The word "cat", whether spoken or written, is not a cat but a sequence of symbols that represent a cat.
The study of symbols is known as semiotics.


The word "symbol" came to the English language by way of Middle English, from Old French, from Latin, from the Greek σύμβολον (sýmbolon) from the root words συν- (syn-) meaning "together" and βολή (bolē) "a throw", having the approximate meaning of "to throw together", literally a "co-incidence" (zu-fall), also "sign, ticket, or contract". The earliest attestation of the term is in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes where Hermes on seeing the tortoise exclaims συμβολον ηδη μοι "symbolon [symbol/sign/portent/encounter/chance find?] of joy to me!" before turning it into a lyre.

The symbolate

A technical term for an object that serves as a symbol is a symbolate. For example, a scepter is a symbol of royal power. In addition to being a symbol, a scepter is also an object which can be picked up and wielded, and which only fulfills its symbolic purpose when it is wielded by a monarch.
Objects have physical properties; a scepter is essentially a rod with ornamentation. A rod only becomes a scepter when the people viewing the rod accept it as a scepter.
An alien from outer space might describe a royal audience as follows: A human Homo sapiens wrapped in fibers reflecting light at the high end of the visible frequency range moved an ornamented rod against gravity, at which time other individuals ceased emitting complex sound waves. A human would say that the monarch dressed in a purple robe waved the scepter to silence the crowd.
What is the difference between these two meanings? Leslie White approached the question in an effort to define cultural objects, such as a law, a constitution, a marriage ceremony. All the nouns in the paragraph above are cultural objects: the monarch, the robe, the scepter, the language, and the subjects.


Other references

  • Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged, W.A. Neilson, T.A. Knott, P.W. Carhart (eds.), G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, MA, 1950.
symbols in Afrikaans: Simbool
symbols in Arabic: علامة
symbols in Catalan: Símbol
symbols in Czech: Symbol
symbols in Danish: Symbol
symbols in German: Symbol
symbols in Estonian: Sümbol
symbols in Modern Greek (1453-): Σύμβολο
symbols in Spanish: Símbolo
symbols in Esperanto: Simbolo
symbols in Persian: نماد
symbols in French: Symbole
symbols in Galician: Símbolo
symbols in Korean: 기호
symbols in Indonesian: Lambang
symbols in Italian: Simbolo
symbols in Hebrew: סמל
symbols in Hungarian: Szimbólum
symbols in Macedonian: Симбол
symbols in Dutch: Symbool
symbols in Japanese: シンボル
symbols in Norwegian: Symbol
symbols in Norwegian Nynorsk: Symbol
symbols in Polish: Symbol
symbols in Portuguese: Símbolo
symbols in Quechua: Sanancha
symbols in Russian: Символ
symbols in Simple English: Symbol
symbols in Slovak: Symbol
symbols in Slovenian: Simbol
symbols in Serbian: Симбол
symbols in Finnish: Symboli
symbols in Swedish: Symbol
symbols in Thai: สัญลักษณ์
symbols in Vietnamese: Biểu tượng
symbols in Ukrainian: Символ
symbols in Chinese: 符号
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