AskDefine | Define symbol

Dictionary Definition



1 an arbitrary sign (written or printed) that has acquired a conventional significance
2 something visible that by association or convention represents something else that is invisible; "the eagle is a symbol of the United States" [syn: symbolization, symbolisation, symbolic representation] [also: symbolling, symbolled]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Symbol



Literally "to throw together". From symbolum "mark" or "token" < σύμβολον (sumbolon) "a sign or token by which one infers a thing" < συμβάλλω (sumballō) "I throw together, dash together" < σύν (sun) "with, together" + βάλλω (ballō) "I throw"


  • /sɪmbəɫ/
  • (US) /sIm.bVl/
  • Rhymes: -ɪmbəl



  1. A character or glyph representing an idea, concept or object.
    • "$ is the symbol for dollars in the US and some other countries"
    • "'#' is the hash symbol"
  2. Any object, typically material, which is meant to represent another (usually abstract) even if there is no meaningful relationship.
    • "The dollar symbol has no relationship to the concept of currency or any related idea."
  3. A type of noun whereby the form refers to the same entity independently of the context; a symbol arbitrarily denotes a referent. See also icon and index.
  4. A summary of a dogmatic statement of faith.
    • The Apostles, Nicene Creed and the confessional books of Protestantism, such as the Augsburg Confession of Lutheranism are considered symbols.


character or glyph
object meant to represent another
type of noun
summary of a dogmatic statement of faith





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.
symbol in Afrikaans: Simbool
symbol in Arabic: علامة
symbol in Catalan: Símbol
symbol in Czech: Symbol
symbol in Danish: Symbol
symbol in German: Symbol
symbol in Estonian: Sümbol
symbol in Modern Greek (1453-): Σύμβολο
symbol in Spanish: Símbolo
symbol in Esperanto: Simbolo
symbol in Persian: نماد
symbol in French: Symbole
symbol in Galician: Símbolo
symbol in Korean: 기호
symbol in Indonesian: Lambang
symbol in Italian: Simbolo
symbol in Hebrew: סמל
symbol in Hungarian: Szimbólum
symbol in Macedonian: Симбол
symbol in Dutch: Symbool
symbol in Japanese: シンボル
symbol in Norwegian: Symbol
symbol in Norwegian Nynorsk: Symbol
symbol in Polish: Symbol
symbol in Portuguese: Símbolo
symbol in Quechua: Sanancha
symbol in Russian: Символ
symbol in Simple English: Symbol
symbol in Slovak: Symbol
symbol in Slovenian: Simbol
symbol in Serbian: Симбол
symbol in Finnish: Symboli
symbol in Swedish: Symbol
symbol in Thai: สัญลักษณ์
symbol in Vietnamese: Biểu tượng
symbol in Ukrainian: Символ
symbol in Chinese: 符号

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abbreviation, accent, accent mark, acronym, agent, allegory, alphabet, alphabetic character, alternate, alternative, analogy, armory, arms, art, attribute, backup, badge, badge of office, badges, banner, bar, baton, bearing, binary digit, bit, blazonry, blueprint, brand, brassard, button, cancel, cap and gown, case, case in point, chain, chain of office, change, changeling, character, charactering, characterization, charactery, chart, choreography, cipher, class ring, coat of arms, cockade, code, collar, colophon, comparison, conventional representation, conventional symbol, copy, counterfeit, crest, cross, cryptogram, custos, dance notation, decoration, delineation, demonstration, depiction, depictment, deputy, design, device, diagram, digit, direct, dot, double, drama, drawing, dress, dummy, eagle, emblem, emblems, ensigns, equal, equivalent, ersatz, escutcheon, example, exchange, exemplar, exemplification, explanation, exponent, expression mark, fake, fasces, father symbol, fermata, fertility symbol, figuration, figure, figurehead, fill-in, flag, fleur-de-lis, ghost, ghostwriter, glosseme, graph, grapheme, hammer and sickle, heraldry, hieroglyphic, hold, icon, iconography, iconology, ideogram, illustration, image, imagery, imaging, imitation, indication, initialism, insignia, instance, key signature, lapel pin, lead, letter, lexeme, lexical form, lexigraphic character, ligature, limning, livery, locum tenens, logo, logogram, logograph, logotype, love knot, mace, makeshift, mantle, map, mark, markings, measure, medal, metaphor, metonymy, metronomic mark, monogram, morpheme, mortarboard, mother symbol, motif, musical notation, next best thing, notation, note, number, numeral, numero, object lesson, old school tie, password, pattern, pause, pennant, personnel, phallic symbol, phonetic character, phonetic symbol, phony, phrase, pictogram, pictographic character, picturization, pin, pinch hitter, plan, portraiture, portrayal, prefigurement, presa, presentment, printing, projection, proxy, realization, regalia, relevant instance, relief, rendering, rendition, replacement, representation, representative, reserves, ring, ringer, rose, schema, school ring, score, script, second string, secondary, segno, semasiological unit, sememe, shamrock, shibboleth, sigillography, sign, signature, signifiant, significant, skull and crossbones, slur, spares, sphragistics, staff, stamp, stand-in, standard, sub, substituent, substitute, substitution, succedaneum, superseder, supplanter, surrogate, swastika, swell, syllabary, syllabic, symbolic system, symbolism, symbolization, symbology, synecdoche, tablature, tartan, tempo mark, term, third string, thistle, tie, time signature, token, totem, totem pole, type, typical example, understudy, uniform, universal symbol, utility player, verge, vicar, vice-president, vice-regent, vinculum, wand, watchword, word, writing, written character
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