We live in a world full of symbols and signs. They help us know about the world around us - for instance, if you need medical help, you're likely to look around for a red or white cross to get first aid. Have you ever wondered, however, how these symbols came to be and whether or not we're using them correctly?
Here's a look at seven famous symbols and their possible origins.
1. Ampersand ("&")
The ampersand is a symbolic conjunction of the Latin "et," which means "and" in English. It was initially used by the Roman Emperor Cicero's personal secretary, Tiro, who invented a system of abbreviations to make imperial note-taking faster.
At one point, it was also considered a part of the English alphabet, but was later dropped in the early part of the 20th century.
2. Heart Symbols
This is one of the most popularly recognized symbols in the world, but we all know that the human heart bears no resemblance to this symbol. So, how did it come to be associated with love? There are several theories.
- When courting swans approach each other in a lake, they croon their necks towards each other in a way that resembles the "heart" shape. As swans are often associated with romance in many cultures and are known to mate for life, this could be one explanation.
- Another theory is that the symbol is a tribute to the feminine form, depicting the female pelvis and/or hips. The Ancient Greeks had great reverence for female anatomy, and even had a special temple for Aphrodite, the goddess of love, that was dedicated specifically to the worship of buttocks. Yep, I'm not kidding!
- Finally, there's the possibility that the symbol comes from the shape of an ivy leaf, associated with the Greek god of wine and passion, Dionysus.
Back in the 10th century, Danish king Harald Blåtand united Denmark's warring tribes into a single, unified kingdom. Harald was nicknamed "Blue Tooth" due to his great love of blueberries, and apparently one of his teeth had a permanently blue tinge.
Bluetooth technology, which unites multiple devices to a single network, gets its name from Denmark's great unifier, and the symbol is the combination of the Scandinavian runes for "H" and "B," Harald Blåtand's initials.
4. Medical Symbol
Few people realize that the medical symbol (a staff with wings and two snakes wrapped around it) was originally adopted by mistake.
The original staff, known as a Caduceus, was originally the property of Greek god Hermes (Mercury in the Roman pantheon). This magic staff had the power to resolve any dispute but had nothing to do with medical healing.
But, over a hundred years ago, U.S. military doctors confused the Caduceus with the Rod of Asclepius (which is similar but has no wings and only one snake). Asclepius was the actual Greek god of healing, so the mistake was an easy one to make. The mistake stuck, however, and now the Caduceus is the official medical symbol.
5. Power Symbol
The "power/power on" symbol is fairly universal and gets its origins from the binary system of data, where 1 meant on and 0 meant off. The two numerals were combined to create a symbol for the button that turns things on and off.
6. Peace Symbol
The peace symbol was invented in 1958 during the protests against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The symbol is a combination of semaphore signals for the letters "N" and "D," for Nuclear Disarmament.
7. "OK" Sign
This hand gesture is recognized in a lot of places, but be aware: it doesn't mean the same thing everywhere. For instance, in France, the gesture indicates someone who is a zero (a nothing). There are several theories about its origins:
- It seems that "OK" may have originated as a supplement to the campaign of America's eighth President, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren was a native of Old Kinderhook, New York. During his campaign, he adopted an alias that used the initials of his hometown - O.K. along with a campaign slogan declaring "Old Kinderhook is O. K." along with the "OK" gesture sign.
- Another theory is that it was originated by the seventh U.S. President, Andrew Jackson, who used the Germanic "Oll Korrect" ("all correct" in English) in his notes to finalize decisions. This became abbreviated to OK.
- Another theory suggests that the gesture is a mudra - a ritual hand gesture in Buddhism and Hinduism to denote learning.
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H/T: Bright Side