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[sim-buh l] /ˈsɪm bəl/
something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign.
a letter, figure, or other character or mark or a combination of letters or the like used to designate something:
the algebraic symbol x; the chemical symbol Au.
(especially in semiotics) a word, phrase, image, or the like having a complex of associated meanings and perceived as having inherent value separable from that which is symbolized, as being part of that which is symbolized, and as performing its normal function of standing for or representing that which is symbolized: usually conceived as deriving its meaning chiefly from the structure in which it appears, and generally distinguished from a sign.
verb (used with object), symboled, symboling or (especially British) symbolled, symbolling.
to use symbols; symbolize.
Origin of symbol
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English < Latin symbolum < Greek sýmbolon sign, equivalent to sym- sym- + -bolon, neuter for bolḗ (feminine) a throw Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for symbols
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It is through these symbols or signs that one learns the language of such matters.

    The Way of Initiation Rudolf Steiner
  • But, tonight, he was not seeing these symbols of material superiority.

    Dust Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius
  • Most of these have the symbols of the four Evangelists, the triple crown, and crossed keys.

    Finger-Ring Lore William Jones
  • Knitted, in her own stitches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun.

    A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
  • These symbols were called runes; and graven into granite the runic inscriptions have defied the gnawing tooth of time.

    Canute the Great Laurence Marcellus Larson
British Dictionary definitions for symbols


something that represents or stands for something else, usually by convention or association, esp a material object used to represent something abstract
an object, person, idea, etc, used in a literary work, film, etc, to stand for or suggest something else with which it is associated either explicitly or in some more subtle way
a letter, figure, or sign used in mathematics, science, music, etc to represent a quantity, phenomenon, operation, function, etc
(psychoanal) the end product, in the form of an object or act, of a conflict in the unconscious between repression processes and the actions and thoughts being repressed: the symbols of dreams
(psychol) any mental process that represents some feature of external reality
verb -bols, -bolling, -bolled (US) -bols, -boling, -boled
(transitive) another word for symbolize
Word Origin
C15: from Church Latin symbolum, from Greek sumbolon sign, from sumballein to throw together, from syn- + ballein to throw
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 symbols



early 15c., "creed, summary, religious belief," from Late Latin symbolum "creed, token, mark," from Greek symbolon "token, watchword" (applied c.250 by Cyprian of Carthage to the Apostles' Creed, on the notion of the "mark" that distinguishes Christians from pagans), literally "that which is thrown or cast together," from syn- "together" (see syn-) + bole "a throwing, a casting, the stroke of a missile, bolt, beam," from bol-, nominative stem of ballein "to throw" (see ballistics).

The sense evolution in Greek is from "throwing things together" to "contrasting" to "comparing" to "token used in comparisons to determine if something is genuine." Hence, "outward sign" of something. The meaning "something which stands for something else" first recorded 1590 (in "Faerie Queene").

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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symbols in Medicine

symbol sym·bol (sĭm'bəl)

  1. Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, especially a material object used to represent something invisible.

  2. A printed or written sign used to represent an operation, an element, a quantity, or a relation, as in mathematics or chemistry.

  3. A conventional sign.

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

A conventional, printed or written figure used to represent an operation, element, quantity, relation, unit of measurement, phenomenon, or descriptor. Also called sign.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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symbols in Culture

symbol definition

An object or name that stands for something else, especially a material thing that stands for something that is not material. The bald eagle is a symbol of the United States of America. The cross is a symbol of Christianity. The Star of David is a symbol of Judaism.

symbol definition

Something that represents or suggests something else. Symbols often take the form of words, visual images, or gestures that are used to convey ideas and beliefs. All human cultures use symbols to express the underlying structure of their social systems, to represent ideal cultural characteristics, such as beauty, and to ensure that the culture is passed on to new generations. Symbolic relationships are learned rather than biologically or naturally determined, and each culture has its own symbols.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Idioms and Phrases with symbols


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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