Meaning of Symbol

Symbol definition and meaning | Difference symbol sign and icon

Meaning of Symbol

A symbol is a sensible and non-verbal representation of a complex idea, and that results from a process of assimilation and synthesis of the said idea in a culture. This sensitive representation can be a graphic, visual, auditory or figurative element. Therefore, a symbol arises from a process of conventionalization of a concept and the way of expressing it differently from verbal language.

The word derives from the Latin term simbŏlum , and this comes from the Greek σύμβολον (symbolon). It is formed from the root sin, which means ‘with’, ‘together’ or ‘united’, and from ballein , which means ‘to launch’. Therefore, in an etymological sense a symbol is that which is launched to unite.

This means that around a symbol there is a social convention that allows all actors to give the symbol the same meaning.

In a figurative sense, it is said that when a person has consolidated great influence in the social environment, he becomes a symbol. For example: “The singer Madonna is a symbol of modern femininity”, a phrase attributed to the designer Donatella Versace.

symbol, sign and icon

Function of symbol

The function of symbols is to convey complex or abstract meanings, the density of which is difficult to summarize in everyday language. For example, feelings, religious values, social values, numerical values, cultures, nationalities, ideologies, danger and anti-values, among others.

They do not explain concepts as language does, but they do allow those concepts to be communicable and understandable since they do not operate at the logical level but rather unconsciously and subconsciously.

Therefore, symbols allow us to mediate between the visible and the invisible, the concrete and the abstract. The symbol also has a unifying force, that is, it manages to synthesize different levels of significance in a single element.

Because they facilitate the processes of understanding reality, symbols have educational and even therapeutic importance.

Finally, understanding the symbol allows the individual to recognize himself as belonging to a socio cultural group.

Characteristics of symbol

  • They are part of the human way of existing;
  • They are representative;
  • They are indivisible;
  • They are collective, not individual;
  • They also have an aesthetic vocation;
  • They are noticeable at the subconscious or unconscious level;
  • They are significant.
  • The effectiveness of a symbol depends on the validity of its use and meaning in a certain culture. So it is possible:
    • forget the origin of a symbol but continue to carry the meaning of the concept (for example, the symbol of medicine);
    • that the meaning of the symbol is transformed due to a change in historical conditions (for example, the swastika).

Types of symbols

There are as many types of symbols as there are cultural expressions and social areas of interaction. Thus, the symbols can be classified according to their style, function or scope of circulation. We can mention here some of the most widespread symbols that we find in western culture.

Graphic symbols

By graphic symbols, we mean the characters that represent sounds or ideas, depending on the type of writing. In the case of alphabets, each character represents a sound.

There is another type of script in which each character represents concepts. For example, numbers, pictograms, hieroglyphs, ideograms, etc.

Scientific symbols

It is a series of graphic representations of scientific notions that describe operations, abstractions, concepts, materials, etc. For example, the symbols of international measurement systems (W, ºC, ºF, Hz), symbols of biology (♀, ♂, RH-, RH +), geometric symbols (º, π), mathematical symbols (+, -, ÷, x).

A very clear example is chemical symbols. They are made up of letters and numbers that are used to represent chemical elements. For example, H₂O is the representation of the chemical composition of water, made up of two molecules of hydrogen (H) and one of oxygen (O).

See also Medicine symbol.

Religious symbols

It is the entire universe of symbols, which vary according to confession. They serve to identify each religious community, as well as to communicate complex concepts and facilitate the spiritual experience.

In Christianity, the Latin cross, the fish, the dove, the Chrismon or monogram of Christ (XP), the monogram of the Virgin Mary (MA), etc. are common symbols.

In Judaism, the star of David, the menorah (seven-armed candelabra), the kippah is worn by men, etc. are essential.

In Islamism, the symbol of the crescent, the Jihad flag and the eight-pointed star or star of Solomon, among others, are essential.

See also 8 symbols of Easter.

National symbols or national symbols

It refers to the repertoire of visual or auditory signs that express the concept and values ​​of a certain nation. Among them are mainly flags, hymns, and shields.

Trademark symbols

Today, thanks to the market culture, there is a great profusion of brands. Each brand designs and disseminates a symbol that identifies it to effectively transmit the origin, quality and guarantee of the product.

Symbols used by a brand include:

  • logos
  • logos inserted in geometric figures
  • logo symbols
  • monograms
  • pictograms

Difference between symbol, sign and icon

Symbols are visual or auditory representations that do not have a relation of similarity with the idea of ​​representing, but a conceptual and metaphorical relation. For example, the anti-war symbol is known as a symbol of peace, the symbol of justice, hearts as a symbol of love, etc.

The signs are strictly graphic that delimits ideas in concrete, direct and immediate way. Therefore, the sign is utilitarian and is subject to control. For example, the words.

An icon is an image that directly represents the meaning to be transmitted. That is, the image that purports to be analogous to its meaning. For example, emoticons, holy character icons, etc.