25 Symbols You’ve Encountered Everyday But Never Understood

Symbols are powerful tools of communication, often transcending language barriers and conveying complex ideas succinctly. Yet, many of the symbols we encounter daily have origins and meanings that remain obscure to most of us. This post uncovers the fascinating histories and significance behind some of the most common symbols you’ve likely seen but never fully understood.

Yin and Yang

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The Yin and Yang symbol is a cornerstone of Chinese philosophy, embodying the concept of duality and balance. The black and white halves represent opposing forces such as light and dark, male and female, or good and evil. These forces are not only oppositional but also complementary, each containing a seed of the other, symbolizing the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things.

Anarchy Symbol

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The anarchy symbol, often depicted as an “A” within a circle, signifies the absence of government and the advocacy for a self-managed society. Originating in the 19th century, it was adopted by various anti-authoritarian movements. The circle around the “A” represents order, emphasizing the belief that true order can only come from the absence of coercive authority.

Eye of Providence

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Also known as the All-Seeing Eye, this symbol features an eye enclosed within a triangle and is often surrounded by rays of light. It is commonly associated with Freemasonry, Christianity, and conspiracy theories. Traditionally, it represents divine providence, with the eye symbolizing the omniscience of God.


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The Om symbol is sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Dharmic religions. It represents the primordial sound of the universe and the essence of ultimate reality. Comprising three Sanskrit letters (A-U-M), it encapsulates the concepts of creation, preservation, and destruction, akin to the cycles of the moon and stages of consciousness.

Peace Symbol

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Designed in 1958 for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the peace symbol combines the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D” within a circle. It quickly became a universal emblem of peace and anti-war movements.


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The swastika is one of the oldest symbols, dating back thousands of years, and has been found in various cultures such as Hinduism and Buddhism, where it symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. However, its appropriation by Nazi Germany has unfortunately turned it into a symbol of hate and anti-Semitism.

The Cross

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A central symbol in Christianity, the cross represents Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. It signifies sacrifice, redemption, and the ultimate expression of divine love.


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Enclosed within a circle, the pentagram is a five-pointed star representing the elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. It is often associated with Wicca and other neo-pagan religions, symbolizing protection and balance.


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Often mistaken as a medical symbol, the caduceus (a staff with two snakes entwined and wings) is actually associated with Hermes, the messenger of the gods. The true symbol of medicine is the Rod of Asclepius, which features a single snake around a staff.

The Triskelion

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A symbol with three interlocked spirals, the triskelion is prominent in Celtic culture and represents movement and the cycles of life, death, and rebirth. It is also associated with progress and personal growth.

Crossed Swords

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Commonly found in military insignia, crossed swords symbolize readiness for battle, strength, and honor. Historically, they have represented the enforcement of law and order.

Radiation Symbol

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The radiation symbol, or trefoil, is designed to warn of hazardous ionizing radiation. Created in 1946 at the University of California, Berkeley, its three blades represent radiation moving outward from an atom.

Biohazard Symbol

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Designed by Charles Baldwin in 1966 for Dow Chemical, the biohazard symbol warns of biological substances that pose a threat to living organisms. Its three interlocking circles are meant to be memorable and immediately recognizable.

Bluetooth Symbol

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The Bluetooth symbol combines the Nordic runes for the letters “H” and “B,” representing Harald Bluetooth, the Viking king who united Denmark and Norway. This symbol reflects the technology’s aim to unite different devices.

Heart Shape

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Despite its lack of resemblance to an actual human heart, the heart symbol is universally recognized as a sign of love. Its origins may be linked to the shape of the silphium seedpod, a plant used in ancient times for birth control and associated with love.


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Originating from the Latin word “et” (meaning “and”), the ampersand evolved from the cursive combination of the letters “e” and “t.” It is commonly used to represent the word “and” in writing.

Question Mark

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Derived from the Latin word “quaestio” (meaning “question”), the question mark evolved from the abbreviation “qo,” which was written with the “q” above the “o,” eventually merging into the familiar “?” shape.

At Sign

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The “@” symbol, widely used in email addresses, was originally an accounting shorthand for “at the rate of.” Its modern use in digital communication was popularized by Ray Tomlinson in the 1970s when he chose it for email addresses.


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The Greek letter π represents the mathematical constant pi, approximately equal to 3.14159. Used to calculate the circumference and area of a circle, it was popularized by the mathematician William Jones in 1706.

Power Symbol

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The power symbol, featuring a line intersecting a circle, originates from binary notation used in computer science. The circle represents zero (off), and the line represents one (on), symbolizing a switch.

Inverted Cross

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Commonly associated with anti-Christian sentiments, the inverted cross was originally a symbol of Saint Peter, who requested to be crucified upside down as he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ. Its negative connotation is a more recent development.

Equal Sign

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The equal sign was invented by Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde in 1557. He used two parallel lines to represent equality, believing that no two things could be more equal than parallel lines.

Laurel Wreaths

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In ancient Greece and Rome, laurel wreaths held significant cultural and symbolic value. These wreaths, made from the branches and leaves of the bay laurel tree, were awarded to victors in athletic competitions, military commanders, and even esteemed poets and scholars.

Jesus Fish Symbol

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The ichthys, or Jesus fish, is a symbol used by early Christians to identify themselves secretly. The Greek word for fish, “ichthys,” is an acronym for “Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter,” which means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”

Toblerone Logo

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The Toblerone logo includes a hidden bear within the Matterhorn mountain, a tribute to the Swiss city of Bern, also known as the city of bears.

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