General English


  • That which is utilized to represent something else.
  • A sign, notation, character, mnemonic, or the like, which represents and identifies a value, entity, relationship, operation, function, concept, component, device, and so on. For example, an electrical, chemical, logic, or schematic symbol, or that indicating a mathematical operation. The meaning of a given symbol may vary from one context to another.

Information & Library Science

  • noun a shape, icon or picture which represents something else

Media Studies

  • noun in semiology, an image which represents some object or concept

Origin & History of “symbol”

Etymologically, a symbol is something ‘thrown together’. The word’s ultimate source is Greek sumbállein, a compound verb formed from the prefix sun- ‘together’ and bállein ‘throw’ (source of English ballistic, problem, etc). The notion of ‘throwing or putting things together’ led on to the notion of ‘contrast’, and so sumbállein came to be used for ‘compare’. From it was derived súmbolon, which denoted an ‘identifying token’ – because such tokens were ‘compared’ with a counterpart to make sure they were genuine – and hence an ‘outward sign’ of something.