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[sim-buh-liz-uh m] /ˈsɪm bəˌlɪz əm/
the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.
a set or system of symbols.
symbolic meaning or character.
the principles and practice of symbolists in art or literature.
(initial capital letter) a movement of the late 19th century in French art and literature.
Compare symbolist (defs 3b, 4b).
the use of any of certain special figures or marks of identification to signify a religious message or divine being, as the cross for Christ and the Christian faith.
Origin of symbolism
1645-55; symbol + -ism Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for symbolism
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is to be noted that personification is, in some sort, the reverse of symbolism, and is far less noble.

  • The Children of Light could see the symbolism quick as a wink.

    The Prisoner Alice Brown
  • But the understanding of this symbolism in its fullness offers very great difficulties.

    Prophets of Dissent Otto Heller
  • But only as inseparable from the symbolism, the under-tow, of his imagination.

    Holbein Beatrice Fortescue
  • People born in this period are represented in the Zodiac by the symbolism of the twins.

British Dictionary definitions for symbolism


the representation of something in symbolic form or the attribution of symbolic meaning or character to something
a system of symbols or symbolic representation
a symbolic significance or quality
(often capital) a late 19th-century movement in art that sought to express mystical or abstract ideas through the symbolic use of images See also synthetism
(theol) any symbolist interpretation of the Eucharist
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for symbolism

1650s, "practice of representing things with symbols," from symbol + -ism. Attested from 1892 as a movement in French literature that aimed at representing ideas and emotions by indirect suggestion rather than direct expression; rejecting realism and naturalism, it attached symbolic meaning to certain objects, words, etc. French symboliste was coined by poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) in 1885.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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symbolism in Medicine

symbolism sym·bol·ism (sĭm'bə-lĭz'əm)

  1. A mental state in which everything that happens is regarded by the individual as symbolic of his or her own thoughts.

  2. The disguised representation in conscious thought of unconscious or repressed contents or events.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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