sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌli-zəm \

Definition of symbolism

1 : the art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations: such as
a : artistic imitation or invention that is a method of revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states
b : the use of conventional or traditional signs in the representation of divine beings and spirits
2 : a system of symbols or representations

Examples of symbolism in a Sentence

The story was filled with religious symbolism.

Recent Examples on the Web

The slapdash way the executive order was introduced doesn’t exactly bode well for how seriously it will be taken, beyond its political symbolism. David Roberts, Vox, "California Gov. Jerry Brown casually drops history’s most ambitious climate target," 11 Sep. 2018 Catonsville was chosen as a location both for its accessibility — other draft offices were protected by armed guards — and its symbolism. Christina Tkacik,, "Fifty years later, Catonsville Nine draft protest inspires activists, angers opponents," 9 May 2018 But just as Oladipo layed the ball up toward the backboard, James pinned it against the glass, robbing it of its symbolism. Rob Mahoney,, "LeBron James Saves a Season on the Brink," 26 Apr. 2018 There was also opposition to both the physical appearance of the doll — which is light-eyed and doesn’t include Kahlo’s signature unibrow — and its symbolism. Gabriella Paiella, The Cut, "A Mexican Court Has Blocked the Sales of the Controversial Frida Kahlo Barbie Doll," 20 Apr. 2018 Finally, the fan supposes that the fierce feline was chosen due to its symbolism for bravery and courage—a nod to Carrie's recent struggles, including the fall that injured her face and her tragic miscarriages. Taysha Murtaugh, Country Living, "'Masked Singer' Fans Have a Theory That Carrie Underwood Is on the Show," 6 Jan. 2019 Less than three months ago, the South Korean leader embraced Mr. Kim in Pyongyang as the two enjoyed a three-day summit filled with fraternal symbolism. Andrew Jeong, WSJ, "Kim Jong Un’s Seoul Trip on Ice as Korean Detente Cools," 12 Dec. 2018 What’s different is that these mountains, streams, and valleys are man-made, but their symbolism is obvious to even the smallest child. Alexandra Lange, Curbed, "How not to cheat children: Let them build their own playgrounds," 18 July 2018 The policy’s immediate impacts will be difficult for many voters to ascertain, while its symbolism will likely resonate with some Rust Belt residents. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Raises Taxes on Chinese Goods, Eyes Foreign Cars Next," 15 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'symbolism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of symbolism

1654, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for symbolism

Last Updated

13 Feb 2019

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Time Traveler for symbolism

The first known use of symbolism was in 1654

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English Language Learners Definition of symbolism

: the use of symbols to express or represent ideas or qualities in literature, art, etc.
: the particular idea or quality that is expressed by a symbol


sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌli-zəm \

Kids Definition of symbolism

1 : the use of symbols to represent an idea or quality The story was filled with symbolism.
2 : the meaning of a symbol What is the symbolism of the lion and lamb in this picture?


sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌliz-əm \

Medical Definition of symbolism

: the art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations

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More from Merriam-Webster on symbolism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with symbolism

Spanish Central: Translation of symbolism

Nglish: Translation of symbolism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of symbolism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about symbolism

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