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em·​blem ˈem-bləm How to pronounce emblem (audio)
: a picture with a motto or set of verses intended as a moral lesson
: an object or the figure of an object symbolizing and suggesting another object or an idea
: a symbolic object used as a heraldic device
: a device, symbol, or figure adopted and used as an identifying mark


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emblemed; embleming; emblems

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Emblem Has Greek Roots

Both emblem and its synonym symbol trace back to the Greek verb bállein, meaning "to throw." Emblem arose from embállein, meaning "to insert," while symbol comes from symbállein, Greek for "to throw together." Bállein is also an ancestor of the words parable (from parabállein, "to compare"), metabolism (from metabállein, "to change"), and problem (from probállein, "to throw forward"). Another, somewhat surprising, bállein descendant is devil, which comes from Greek diabolos, literally meaning "slanderer." Diabolos in turn comes from diabállein, meaning "to throw across" or "to slander."

Examples of emblem in a Sentence

Noun The flag is the emblem of our nation. He has come to be regarded as an emblem of conservatism.
Recent Examples on the Web
Here, light becomes an agent of confusion and deception, an emblem of Gregory’s manipulation. Leslie Jamison, The New Yorker, 1 Apr. 2024 But last year, its staff sat down and concluded a forthcoming treatment was worth up to $3.9 million — more than any medicine in history, more than a 45-year supply of Humira, the autoimmune drug often held up as an emblem of America’s runaway drug spending. Jason Mast, STAT, 28 Mar. 2024 Starting in the mid-20th century, the young sitter became an emblem of American girlhood—both a classic coming-of-age character and a locus of anxieties about girls’ growing autonomy. Faith Hill, The Atlantic, 19 Mar. 2024 Madeline Heim Many people might go their entire lives without seeing a bald eagle, our majestic American emblem, in the wild. Journal Sentinel, 28 Feb. 2024 The face is also adorned with the skull emblem from the video announcing the band’s return and an hourglass that symbolizes the passage of time. Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 20 Feb. 2024 The video carried the emblem of the Russian Army’s 1st Slavic Brigade, which had entered the Zenit area in the south of Avdiivka two days earlier, according to multiple accounts. Tim Lister, CNN, 19 Feb. 2024 Initially a vague motif in ancient Chinese art, the dragon is now an emblem of benevolent divinity, imperial power and sweeping unity. Catherine Duncan, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Feb. 2024 Katie Holmes—a woman who first thawed the cold heart of America as a fresh-faced 19-year-old in Dawson’s Creek—has, for the best part of three decades, been an emblem of the archetypal girl next door: natural, modest, and effortless. Daniel Rodgers, Vogue, 26 Mar. 2024
Her cowboy hat included gold Medusa emblems on the buckle set and center and a gold bolero tie. Kerane Marcellus, Essence, 2 Apr. 2024 Jurors have already heard that items including two Mercedes emblems an investigator said were smashed off the front of Grossman’s Mercedes are missing and not in evidence. Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, 15 Feb. 2024 Fashionable, form-flattering, and produced with discerning attention to detail, these trousers emblem the brand's craftsmanship and understanding of contemporary men's needs. Jon Stojan, USA TODAY, 25 July 2023 It was embroidered with national, religious and Commonwealth emblems in both gold and colored threads. Cara Lynn Shultz, Peoplemag, 2 May 2023 The gorgeous piece, made up of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, features the Prince of Wales feathers emblem. Rosa Sanchez, Harper's BAZAAR, 13 Mar. 2023 In 2015, the court held that Texas need not place a Sons of Confederate Veterans emblem on its license plates, despite offering a commemorative program allowing private groups to sponsor tags. Jess Bravin, WSJ, 18 Jan. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'emblem.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



borrowed from Middle French & New Latin; Middle French embleme "symbolic image typically accompanied by a motto and a verse exposition (books of which constituted a literary genre in the Renaissance)," borrowed from New Latin emblēmat-, emblēma, going back to Latin, "inlaid pavement, inlaid relief on the inside of a metal bowl or other vessel," borrowed from Greek emblēmat-, émblēma "something inserted (as a shaft into a spearhead), relief ornament decorating silver plate," from emblē-, stem in noun derivation of embállein "to drop or place in, throw into, insert," from em-, variant of en- en- entry 2 before a labial + bállein "to reach by throwing, cast, strike, put, place" — more at devil entry 1

Note: The use of Latin emblēma in reference to a combination of symbolic image and text is apparently owed to the Italian jurist and scholar Andrea Anciato (1492-1550), who gave rise to the emblem book genre with his Emblematum liber (Augsburg, 1531). The semantic gap between the literal meaning of the word and Alciati's use of it has yet to be fully explained. Pace the comments by John F. Moffitt (Andrea Alciati, A Book of Emblems: The Emblematum Liber in Latin and English [Jefferson, NC: 2004], introduction, p. 7), neither Cicero, Quintilian, nor Coelius Rodiginus provide any definite basis for the meaning given emblēma by Alciati.


derivative of emblem entry 1

First Known Use


circa 1616, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1584, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of emblem was in 1584


Dictionary Entries Near emblem

Cite this Entry

“Emblem.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/emblem. Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: an object or likeness used to suggest a thing that cannot be pictured
the flag is the emblem of our nation
: a device, symbol, design, or figure used as an identifying mark
the club's emblem

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