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.

1645–55; symbol + -ism Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
symbolism (ˈsɪmbəˌlɪzəm)
1.  the representation of something in symbolic form or the attribution of symbolic meaning or character to something
2.  a system of symbols or symbolic representation
3.  a symbolic significance or quality
4.  (often capital) See also synthetism a late 19th-century movement in art that sought to express mystical or abstract ideas through the symbolic use of images
5.  theol any symbolist interpretation of the Eucharist

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1654, "practice of representing things with symbols," from symbol. Attested from 1892 as a movement in Fr. 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. Fr. symboliste was coined by poet Paul Verlaine (1844-96) in 1885.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

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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Example sentences
It is no petty indulgence, especially if you understand the symbolism involved
  in every sport.
The sense of natural symbolism is so strong in us, that the mind seeks a
  spiritual significance in this glory of the atmosphere.
It is equally tempting to dismiss symbolism as unimportant when measured
  against tangible policy.
Famous writers have previously shared insights on symbolism, reading, and
  writing itself.
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