"Any object, event, act, quality or relation that serves as a vehichle for a conception, the conception being the symbol's meaning."
-Clifford Geertz

In Buddhism there is a term Yatha butham which means "just as it is" --
and this appeals to me, though I see now and then that people are
interested in symbols. But what they mean by symbols seems to be
different from what I thought they meant. There's a very fine fellow I'm
working with on HPSCHD, and his name is Calvin Sumison -- he's in the
design department, and he used the word "symbol" enthusiastically the
other day; it dawned on me that what he meant was a representation of
visual things, rather than abstraction, and that "all he meant by
symbols" was that. He didn't mean, for instance, that a dove means
"peace". He meant that a picture of the dove was a symbol of the dove.
And that's very different from what I would have meant, so I'm getting
more interested in symbols. {Don Finegan et al, 1969, CC, 233}

Radio telecommunications; symbol refers to a transmitted or received piece of information representing a fixed number of bits. Depending on the radio's constellation, it can represent anything from 1 to an infinite number of bits. The more complicated the constellation, the more information a symbol can represent. Obviously, more complexity means greater susceptibility to error. Bit Error Rate is an exponential relation to number of possible symbols (eg, size of constellation).
See also: constellation, spread spectrum, frequency-hopping, direct sequence, Bit Error Rate.

It is often said that a picture can convey a thousand words and there is much truth in this adage. The modern world in which we live is increasingly preoccupied with signs and symbols. Advertisements, films and the Internet have become more and more important as mediums in which we are assaulted with incitements from manufacturers directing us to buy their products. Generic icons are also used to signify familiar concepts such as toilets. Through the conformity of symbol used to identify these areas, their use is facilitated even for those who may not understand English.

According to recent studies, up to ninety percent of our communication is non-verbal, a fact which may account to our high susceptibility for visually orientated advertising whether explicit or subliminal and which is exploited by companies and manufacturers. Symbols and logos have become associated with particular companies and their conspicuous display allows companies to manipulate us into advertising their products for free.

The influence of America, and of Hollywood in particular, is of colossal proportions in our world. The pressure to adhere to the stereotypes presented to us is great, as is shown by the large numbers of teenaged girls who suffer from anorexia. The symbols of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are known throughout the world and associated with a very particular variety of product which is carefully “quality controlled” to ensure complete conformity across the world – something which modern consumers appear to value over actual quality.

Symbols and signs help people to find direction in our hectic world. As we try to fit more and more into each day, we increasingly need to compress the information that is hurled at us into something more easily digestible. It is this that symbols can accomplish, allowing us to assimilate the barrage of details with which we are assailed each day.

(Scheme and Lisp, Prolog:)
A symbol is an object in these (and other) computer languages that is uniquely identified by its name. Symbols are written as generally unquoted tokens: car, 1+, fluid-let, and the like. In Scheme and the Lisps, symbols are either case insensitive or normally converted to all uppercase. Some special tokens are not symbols: . and numbers, for instance. Additional quoting rules are usually given, so you can create symbols with e.g. spaces in their names. Note that when symbols are only converted to uppercase, you can create symbols with lowercase characters in their names by quoting them.

Symbols are atoms not strings. As such, they are not sequences of characters, and offer no access to their character "constituents". From an implementation point of view, symbols are entries in a symbol table (a kind of hash table). Thus, equality of symbols is generally a fast operation. Lexicographic ordering doesn't generall exist for them, so other comparisons don't make sense for them.

In Common Lisp there is some confusion. Common Lisp the Language claims that symbols are associated with property lists (plists). This is used e.g. to attach a value or function (or both!) to a symbol. From a less Lisp-oriented point of view, it makes more sense to say that Common Lisp attaches a plist to every symbol; for many (maybe most) purposes, the attached properties are irrelevant and unused.

Sym"bol (?), n. [L. symbolus, symbolum, Gr. a sign by which one knows or infers a thing, from to throw or put together, to compare; with + to throw: cf. F. symbole. Cf. Emblem, Parable.]


A visible sign or representation of an idea; anything which suggests an idea or quality, or another thing, as by resemblance or by convention; an emblem; a representation; a type; a figure; as, the lion is the symbol of courage; the lamb is the symbol of meekness or patience.

A symbol is a sign included in the idea which it represents, e.g., an actual part chosen to represent the whole, or a lower form or species used as the representative of a higher in the same kind. Coleridge.

2. Math.

Any character used to represent a quantity, an operation, a relation, or an abbreviation.

⇒ In crystallography, the symbol of a plane is the numerical expression which defines its position relatively to the assumed axes.

3. Theol.

An abstract or compendium of faith or doctrine; a creed, or a summary of the articles of religion.

4. [Gr. contributions.]

That which is thrown into a common fund; hence, an appointed or accustomed duty.


They do their work in the days of peace . . . and come to pay their symbol in a war or in a plague. Jer. Taylor.


Share; allotment.


The persons who are to be judged . . . shall all appear to receive their symbol. Jer. Taylor.

6. Chem.

An abbreviation standing for the name of an element and consisting of the initial letter of the Latin or New Latin name, or sometimes of the initial letter with a following one; as, C for carbon, Na for sodium (Natrium), Fe for iron (Ferrum), Sn for tin (Stannum), Sb for antimony (Stibium), etc. See the list of names and symbols under Element.

⇒ In pure and organic chemistry there are symbols not only for the elements, but also for their grouping in formulas, radicals, or residues, as evidenced by their composition, reactions, synthesis, etc. See the diagram of Benzene nucleus, under Benzene.

Syn. -- Emblem; figure; type. See Emblem.


© Webster 1913.

Sym"bol, v. t.

To symbolize.




© Webster 1913.

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