Whether we are walking down the street or driving down the highway, there are hundreds upon hundreds of symbols and signs that advertise products. These catchy symbols and advertisements have a huge influence on us and alter our decisions on how we shop and what we eat. We might only see these symbols as something that represents a product or company but there’s more to them than what we see. Today, we are going to take a look at some of the most recognizable symbols, icons and logos that you probably didn’t know the meaning/origins of.
It’s a common misconception that the bite on the right side of the Apple logo is to differentiate the apple from a cherry. In fact, the logo on the back of your iPhone or Mac is a tribute to Isaac Newton (who conceptualized gravity after an apple fell from a tree and struck his head) and Alan Turing (the man who laid the foundations for the modern-day computer, pioneered research into artificial intelligence and unlocked German wartime codes). Alan Turing, the famed British mathematician and computer scientist was known for his brilliance and the ability to unlock complex German wartime codes during WWII.
For being homosexual, he was persecuted, since it was a criminal offense in Britain at the time. After months of torture and estrogen injections to cure his homosexuality, Touring took his own life by eating a cyanide laced apple. The founders of Apple were so inspired by Turing’s story that they made their logo as a tribute to his work.
2. Female and male symbols
These symbols have been in common use to differentiate restrooms since the 1960’s but very few people know their true origin. While most of us only know them as the symbols used to represent male and female, there’s much more to them than that. The symbols have dual meaning and can be traced back to alchemy and astronomy. The male symbol was used to symbolize the astrological symbol of Mars and in earlier symbols, it had a dot in the middle that stood for the Sun. The other explanation is that the arrow represents the tip of an arrow or a sphere (which were common weapons used in ancient times) and the circle represents a shield.
The female symbol on the other hand was associated with the most celebrated Greek goddess, Venus. It also represents a mirror or a spinning wheel, since both of these objects were considered distinctively feminine at the time.
3. Peace symbol
Dr. Jaap Haartsen invented the Bluetooth while working at Ericsson during the 1990’s. Today, all mobile devices are equipped with this technology that allows one to interconnect different devices. We swipe up and tap on the symbol when we want to connect our wireless headphones. But have you ever wondered from where the symbol originated from? If you thought it was just a stylized “B”, then you are mistaken. The Swedish firm Ericsson has a Norse history, so they chose a logo with the ancient Norse symbol for H combined with a symbol for B. Why you might ask? They represent Harald Bluetooth, a famous Danish king who was known to unite many tribes during the 10th century. The company wanted the technology to help unite people, so they chose Harald Bluetooth as the role model.
5. Pause symbol
Even five year olds recognize this symbol as the pause button, but do you really know where it is derived from? The pause symbol can actually be traced back to the oldest linguistic tools in literacy. The symbol has its roots in both poetry and music. Back in the days, when poets or composers were writing verses, they included a symbol known as caesura. The caesura stood for the performer to realize that he/she would pause after a certain verse to catch their breath. Today, the caesura is used by artists, musicians and the music industry to represent pause.
6. On/Off symbol
This is another symbol with a very academic meaning. For people like us, it’s nothing but a power on/off symbol on remote controllers or computers. This symbol, however, has a different meaning for computer programmers. If you know anything about computer programming or have had classes in school, you would know about how information is compartmentalized into binary codes (o’s and 1’s). 1 represents true (ON) while 0 represents false (OFF) or a deactivated circuit. So, when designers were trying to figure out a symbol for the power button, they decided to go with the binary numbers 0 and 1. The single line represents 1 (ON) and the circle represents 0 (OFF).
7. Nike Swoosh
The Nike swoosh logo is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. Everyone knows it’s associated with the brand Nike and all their products come with this unique logo. This symbol, however, goes all the way back in history. In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory who symbolized peace with a wreath in her hand. The wing of goddess Nike also came to symbolize speed, suggesting physical abilities to athletes and warriors. Carolyn Davidson, the designer of the Nike logo was a close friend of Phil Knight. She used the wing as a symbol when she was designing the Nike logo. The Greeks used to say, “When we go to battle and win, we say it is Nike”.
Whenever we have a long essay or assignment to write, we often try to shorten it by putting “&” instead of “and”. The “&” or the ampersand can be traced back to old Roman cursive in the first century AD. Back then, the letters “A” and “E” were combined to represent the phrase “AND PER SE” or “IN ADDITION TO”. Over time, the combination was slowly transformed into its own character. It was finally adapted from Roman to Latin after 2,000 years and then Latin to English. In fact, the “&” was considered the 27th letter in the English alphabet until the late 1800’s when it became a special character which simply meant “AND”.
9. Heart symbol
The heart symbol is associated with Valentine’s, love and jewelry, but it does not resemble the human heart in any way. Then why do we associate it with such significance? The truth goes all the way back to 6th century Greece when the symbol was in fact used to represent the heart shaped fruit of the Silphium plant. This particular plant was used as a contraceptive and as time passed by, it became associated with love and relationships.
10. The Ying Yang symbol
The ying yang was actually invented around 400 B.C. and was first discussed by Zhao Yang in Tao philosophy and the school of naturalists. The symbol was inspired by sunlight moving over mountains and valleys, so that the Sun is always lighting some part of nature and obscuring the other. The symbol basically describes how two opposite forces may actually benefit from each other and ultimately become attracted to the point where one cannot exist without the other. Ying, the black section, meaning the shady place or North slope, while Yang, the white section, translates into the sunny place or the South pole.