sym·​bol·​ism | \ ˈsim-bə-ˌli-zəm How to pronounce symbolism (audio) \

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 An athlete’s platform and the symbolism of gestures like the one made by Smith and Carlos, or taking a knee during the national anthem, Chavis said, carry a great deal of weight. Joel A. Erickson, The Indianapolis Star, "How Jacoby Brissett continues to inspire the Colts in the fight against racial inequality," 20 Oct. 2020 To sweeten the symbolism, the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil had just been ejected from the Dow Jones index, marking the fossil fuel industry’s ignominious decline during the energy transition. Michael J. Coren, Quartz, "Tesla’s bumpy road to today’s stratospheric stock price," 25 Sep. 2020 Garden docents will give an online tour of the grounds to discuss the symbolism of the garden and Japanese gardening practices; followed by a Q&A. Tween Book Club 4 p.m. Sept. 16 via Zoom. Linda Mcintosh, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Library’s virtual Japanese cultural celebration starts Sept. 14," 9 Sep. 2020 There was no mistaking the symbolism behind French President Emmanuel Macron’s trip to Beirut. Washington Post, "The limits of Macron’s influence in Lebanon," 2 Sep. 2020 Perhaps no industry carries more symbolism of a return to normalcy than cruise lines. Shwanika Narayan,, "Hope springs eternal, with cruise ships planning a return to SF next year," 29 Aug. 2020 Many on Twitter said they were inspired by the video and the symbolism of the pantsuit — after her speech, the hashtag #StillWithHer trended. Malavika Kannan,, "What Was Hillary Clinton Trying To Tell Us With Her White Pantsuit?," 20 Aug. 2020 While the flowers also come in lots of other colors, including purple, red and blue, symbolism comes into play here. Lizz Schumer, Good Housekeeping, "The Most Common Day of the Dead Flowers and Their Meanings," 24 Sep. 2020 Moments after the video's release the star took to Instagram to explain the video's symbolism and its deeply personal intent. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Lady Gaga’s ‘911’ is a Stunning Tribute to Surreal Style," 18 Sep. 2020

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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The first known use of symbolism was in 1654

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Last Updated

24 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Symbolism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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How to pronounce symbolism (audio)

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 How to pronounce symbolism (audio) \

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 How to pronounce symbolism (audio) \

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

Nglish: Translation of symbolism for Spanish Speakers

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

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