What Are Signs and Symbols?

Signs and symbols are representations of information, usually without the usage of words. A sign is usually physical in nature and represents a command or a piece of pertinent information. A symbol usually represents an abstract entity by means of association or a general resemblance. Symbols are typically more open to interpretation than signs.

An example of a sign is the red light of a traffic light. The red light represents a command made to drivers to stop. Another example of a sign is the figure of a woman on a bathroom door, which states that only females are permitted to enter the room.

One example of a symbol is the cross, which often represents the Christian faith. This derives from the belief that Jesus Christ, the religion's central figure, was put to death on a cross. Another example of a symbol is a red plus sign. While this initially represented the Red Cross organization, it is now a symbol used by many medical establishments, including hospitals.

"Sign" and "symbol" are sometimes used interchangeably. For example, a handshake between former rivals can be called a sign of peace if referring to the physical nature of the handshake. However, others can call the handshake a symbol of peace because of peace's subjective and abstract nature.