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|"QUANTUM SHOT" #662|
Link - article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams
Familiar Symbols and Emblems - Their Origin and Meaning (with Some Unexpected Appearances in Arts)
We see various symbols and signs every day, and maybe think ‘I know what that means, but I wonder where it came from’? Well, here’s a look at some of mankind’s more familiar symbols' origin and meaning, plus some interesting art and photography associated with them:
1. Peace Symbol
The peace symbol dates from 1958 and was designed for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or CND. The emblem combines the semaphore signals for N and D, meaning Nuclear Disarmament. The letter ‘N’ is represented by two flags held in an upside-down V, while ‘D’ has one flag pointed up and the other pointed straight down. Another theory is that the Roman emperor Nero originally devised the image. He ordered Saint Peter to be crucified upside down and the sign really depicts a broken cross. There are also claims that the modern sign for universal peace was actually linked to the devil in the medieval period. However, it is generally accepted that the peace symbol as we know it has its origins in the disarmament movement of the late 1950’s.
(top image credit: Fernando Gregory)
(left image credit: Jeff Wignall, right - Anastasia Volkova)
2. Medical Symbols
A staff or rod, with a snake curled around it, is the symbol of the medical profession. Some say that it has relation to the story of Exodus in the Bible, when Moses threw down his staff and it devoured other snakes (crocodiles) of Egyptian court magicians. Exodus 7:12 - "Each of them threw his staff down, and they all became large snakes. But Aaron's staff swallowed theirs."
The other theory is that the staff or rod belongs to Aesculapius (Roman) or Asklepios (Greek), the ancient god of medicine. The children of Asculapius also have associations with doctors. Hygieia, from where we get the word hygiene, was the goddess of health, while Panaceia, who gave us the word panacea for a universal cure, was the goddess of healing. In the modern era, the staff and snake is the symbol of the many medical associations and societies around the world.
The sign for Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, also makes use of the snake (top right image). Due to its strong links with medicine, the rod is also seen in pharmacology, although the mortar and pestle are the images most commonly associated with pharmacists:
(image on the right is the promotional poster for the "House M.D." series, via)
Pharmacy uses special character, often written as ‘rx’, which is the symbol for medical prescriptions. Pharmaceutical organizations also use other symbols, such as the Bowl of Hygieia, again making use of a snake (see above on the left).
3. The Red Cross Symbol
Appalled by the lack of medical care given to the wounded and dying after the battle of Solferino between France and Austria in 1859, Swiss businessman Jean-Henri Dunant proposed the creation of a neutral organization to care for the suffering in wartime. The International Red Cross movement began in 1863 and the original Geneva Convention, recognizing the special status of wounded and medical personnel on the battlefield, dates from 1864. The Red Cross on a white background is the reverse of the flag of Switzerland, Dunant’s native country. The white flag was internationally recognized as signifying a wish to surrender and Switzerland also had a long history of neutrality. The red cross on a white flag could also be easily recognized from a distance, making it an ideal emblem.
(image credit: Inf3ktion)
This is unrelated (it does not even has a red cross painted anywhere on it), but it's simply gorgeous... An ambulance from the 1970s, something for a "Ghostbusters" sequel, perhaps? -
4. The Smiley Face
Harvey Ball originally designed the first Smiley face in 1963 for State Mutual Life Assurance Company. To improve employee morale after a recent merger, the face was to be displayed on buttons, posters and desk cards. The buttons became very popular, with more than 50 million sold by 1971. Harvey Ball was only paid $45 for his work, having never applied for a trademark, but according to his son, he never regretted that decision.
(right image credit: Matt Schmachtenberg)
(image credit: Lettuce)
You can also see a three-eyed variant from the 1997 comic book series "Transmetropolitan".
5. Atomic Energy Symbols
Here we see the symbol for atomic energy (made by a mass of people in Pyongyang, North Korea):
(image credit: Eric Lafforgue)
Atomic cookies, anyone?
(image credit: distopiandreamgirl)
Also very persistent is the "atomic explosion / full-grown tree" combination:
(images: left via; right - "Time Destroys All", by Simon Cogen; bottom - buy print here)
The international radiation symbol first appeared in 1946 and was originally magenta on a blue background, until the more recognizable yellow and black version was adopted. However, in 2007, it was announced that there would be an additional symbol to represent radioactive hazards, after surveys indicated that children often mistook the yellow and black sign for a propeller, not something to be that frightened of. The new supplementary sign clearly shows radiation, the risk of death and the need to run away, combined with the universal colour of red for danger.
On the right you see the "Hulk Alert" variation, made by Aron Rubin:
(image credit: Aron Rubin)
6. Biohazards Symbol
This symbol was originally designed by Dow Chemical for their containment products in 1966, but is now recognized as the universal sign for biohazards.
(The "Biohazard Wheel", designed by James Coleman; right image - "Biohazard Cow" sticker)
7. Dollar & British Pound Signs
The dollar sign is derived from the Spanish-Mexican peso, known as the Spanish dollar or pieces of eight. This currency unit was widely used in North America at the time of the American Revolution in the late eighteenth century. The most widely accepted theory is that the dollar sign comes from the Spanish and Mexican abbreviation for peso, which was ‘ps’. Over time the ‘s’ began to be written over the ‘p’, which would slightly resemble the $ sign. Another theory is that the sign represents a slash through the number eight, as in pieces of eight.
This dollar sign is made out of matches, and only a moment away from being lit up. Very symbolic, indeed:
(Chicago Art Department $200 exhibition, image via)
This sign depicts the pound sterling, the national currency of the United Kingdom, and originates in the capital letter ‘L’. This stood for libra, the main Roman unit of weight, which comes form the Latin word for balance or scales, hence the astrological sign of Libra. The pound as a unit of currency derives from the fact that it was originally the value of one pound of pure silver.
(image credit: Glenn Millington)
We will continue covering the origin of symbols and their sometimes unexpected appearance in various art forms, but for now here is just a couple of interesting facts:
1) Regarding the Communist Hammer & Sickle symbol:
The hammer and sickle is known as the symbol of communism and was designed at the time of the Russian Revolution. The hammer represents industrial workers and the sickle those working in agriculture or the peasantry. Together the two objects signify the unity of the working people. This is all well and good, but -
On the old Soviet coat of arms you can clearly see these familiar Communist hammer & sickle symbols stuck on top of the WHOLE WORLD!! Does that signify that the Soviets wanted to conquer the whole world with their World Revolution? -
Soviet propaganda vehemently denied any attempts at world domination, and here it was - right on their own coat-of-arms, in front of the whole world, clearly showing otherwise... The ultimate irony, it seems.
2) Something about the Male / Mars symbol - it's interesting that originally the VOLVO company had a logo with Mars symbol in it:
Somebody should draw the alternate VOLVO logo, with a Venus element in it - just to be fair to all lady drivers out there.
CONTINUE TO "WEIRD & HILARIOUS SIGNS" SERIES! ->
Simon Rose is the author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children, including The Alchemist's Portrait, The Sorcerer's Letterbox, The Clone Conspiracy, The Emerald Curse, The Heretic's Tomb and The Doomsday Mask.
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