The term “symbolism” comes from the Greek word “symbolon,” which means “token” or “sign.” This is derived from the Greek verb “symballein,” meaning “to throw together,” composed of “syn-” meaning “together” and “ballein” meaning “to throw.”

1. Proto-Indo-European (PIE)

The PIE root “*gwel-” means “to throw” or “to reach.”

2. Greek

From the PIE root, the Greek verb “ballein” developed, meaning “to throw.” The prefix “syn-” (together) was combined with “ballein,” forming “symballein,” meaning “to throw together” or “to compare.” The noun “symbolon” was derived from “symballein,” meaning “token,” “sign,” or “a mark for identification.”

3. Latin

The Greek term “symbolon” was adopted into Latin as “symbolum,” retaining the meaning of “sign” or “token.”

4. Old French (c. 9th to 14th century CE)

The Latin term “symbolum” evolved into Old French “symbolisme,” retaining the meaning of “the use of symbols.”

5. Modern English (from 15th century CE to present)

The term “symbolism” was adopted into Modern English from Old French, retaining the meaning of “the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.”

Phonetic Evolution

The pronunciation of “symbolism” has remained relatively stable from Greek to Modern English.

Usage Examples

  • “Symbolism is often used to describe the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities.”
  • “Another example of ‘symbolism’ in a sentence is ‘The novel is rich with symbolism, using objects and characters to convey deeper meanings.'”

Cultural or Historical Notes

The development of the word “symbolism” was significantly influenced by its use in various contexts, including literature, art, religion, and psychology. Symbolism has been a central theme in the exploration of how symbols convey complex ideas, emotions, and concepts.

The word “symbolism” reflects the concept of representing deeper meanings through symbols, emphasizing the importance of interpretation, cultural context, and the conveyance of abstract ideas through concrete forms. It underscores the role of symbolism in enhancing understanding, enriching artistic expression, and communicating complex concepts in literature, art, and everyday life.