There are thousands of symbols in the world. For the majority of symbols, we know what they are and what they mean. The use of these symbols is so integrated into our daily lives that we don’t even pay much attention to it anymore.
Nevertheless, have you ever wondered where these symbols came from?
Take a look at the details of these 7 famous symbols. You will truly be surprised at the depth of the origins and how they came to be.
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#7 The Ampersand ‘&’
The ampersand symbol—aka ‘&’—is a combination of two Latin letters ‘e’ and ‘t’. This conjunction of ‘et’ makes the English word ‘and’. Tiro invented this revolutionary ligature. He was the personal secretary for an Ancient Roman politician and lawyer who served as counsel in the year 63 BC. Trio’s system of abbreviations was used to speed up writing, later known as ‘Tironian Notes’.
Several centuries later, this symbol became very popular and vastly used in Europe and America. It was given the honor of being the last letter of the English alphabet. However, it was omitted in the early twentieth century. The word ‘ampersand’ is the short form of ‘And per se and’ that teachers used to say after reciting the letters from ‘A’ to ‘Z’.
The symbol ‘&’ that we use today is the result of the letters ‘E’ and ‘T’ merging over time.
#6 The Heart Symbol
We all know that the heart symbol doesn’t look close to the actual human heart. There are many theories and controversies as to where the actual symbol came. Here are a few popular opinions:
- It’s rumored that the heart symbol came from swans. Courting swans come together and make a heart symbol. Swans represent love and loyalty in various cultures. The rumors are well-founded, as swans are known for their devotion; they mate for life.
- According to ancient Greeks, the heart symbol represented the feminine form. There are many supporters of this theory and it is believed to be the shape of the female pelvis. Ancient Greeks even constructed a special temple for goddess Aphrodite, paying special attention to this part of the female anatomy.
- Another popular theory is that the heart symbol represents an ivy leaf. Ancient Greeks drew ivy leaves on their vases and drawings to honor the god Dionysus—the god of wine-making and passion.
#5 The Bluetooth Symbol
King Harald Blåtand of Denmark, was famous for uniting the scattered Danish tribes in the tenth century AD. This historical figure was often called ‘Bluetooth’ for his love for blueberries. It’s said that at least one of his teeth had a permanent blue tint.
Bluetooth technology was solely designed to unite and join multiple devices on a single network to share data and files. The symbol for this technology is represented by a combination of two Scandinavian runes—‘Hagall’ (or ‘Hagalaz’), which is the analog of the Latin ‘H,’, and ‘Bjarkan’, a rune that equals the Latin letter ‘B.’
Notice how the two letters form the initials of King Harald Blåtand? More surprisingly, a first generation Bluetooth device was colored blue and resembled a tooth!
#4 The Medical Symbol
Did you know the symbol of medicine you see today (a staff with wings and two snakes) was adopted by mistake?
Not many people know this, but legend says the Greek god Hermes (in Roman pantheon, Mercury) had a magic staff called the Caduceus that looked exactly like the modern medical symbol. The magic staff had special powers to stop people from fighting one another. However, it had nothing to do with medicine.
The truth is, US military doctors confused the Caduceus staff with a similar looking staff called the “Rod of Asclepius”. They both looked alike, but the rod had no wings and only one spiraling snake. Since Asclepius is the Ancient Greek god of healing and medicine, the mistake was understandable. Nevertheless, by the time anyone noticed, the symbol you see now was already well-established.
#3 The ‘Power on’ Symbol
If you own any electronic devices, the ‘power’ or ‘power on/off’ is most definitely there. In the early 1940s, the engineers used binary systems to represent specific switches. So, 1 equaled ‘on’ and 0 equaled ‘off’.
Over many technological upgrades, the two separate switches became one and thus the sign also changed to be the one we see today. The sign you see now features a circle (zero) and a vertical line (one).
#2 The Peace Symbol
The peace symbol—also known as the Pacific—gained popularity worldwide during protests against the use of nuclear weapons. It was invented in 1958 amidst the protests; it is a combination of semaphore signals for two letters:‘N’ and ‘D’. N.D. stands for Nuclear Disarmament.
The ‘N’ letter for the semaphore alphabet is transmitted by holding two flags in such a way that it looks like an inverted ‘V’. The letter ‘D’ is formed by holding one flag straight up and the other straight down. The combination of these makes the peace symbol.
#1 The ‘OK’ Sign
Most people see the ‘O.K’ sign, as a symbol for ‘okay’ or ‘alright’. However, different cultures around the world perceive this popular hand gesture differently. While most times it’s seen as a positive sign, in France, it’s a symbol for zero or nothing. There are other past interpretations too:
- In the United States, the O.K is also noted as an abbreviation of ‘Old Kinderhook, NY’. The eighth U.S President used the abbreviation – “Old Kinderhook is O.K” while campaigning for the office. His campaign posters showed a person showing the ‘OK’ sign.
- Another American theory suggests that the seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson used the expression ‘Oll Korrect’ in a German manner. The ‘OK’ abbreviation came from that.
- In the religious font, the ‘OK’ gesture is nothing but a mudra—a ritual gesture in Buddhism and Hinduism. The ‘OK’ sign represents learning and many Buddhists artworks are seen portray the Buddha making the gesture.