[sim-buh-liz-uh m]


the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.
a set or system of symbols.
symbolic meaning or character.
the principles and practice of symbolists in art or literature.
(initial capital letter) a movement of the late 19th century in French art and literature.Compare symbolist(defs 3b, 4b).
the use of any of certain special figures or marks of identification to signify a religious message or divine being, as the cross for Christ and the Christian faith.

Origin of symbolism

First recorded in 1645–55; symbol + -ism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for symbolism

Contemporary Examples of symbolism

Historical Examples of symbolism

  • "Give Mrs. Bowlder my regards," said the journalist, comprehending the symbolism.

  • It would have been better if you hadn't ventured on symbolism.

  • The Children of Light could see the symbolism quick as a wink.

    The Prisoner

    Alice Brown

  • But only as inseparable from the Symbolism, the under-tow, of his imagination.


    Beatrice Fortescue

  • He must be a dullard indeed who fails to understand their symbolism.

British Dictionary definitions for symbolism



the representation of something in symbolic form or the attribution of symbolic meaning or character to something
a system of symbols or symbolic representation
a symbolic significance or quality
(often capital) a late 19th-century movement in art that sought to express mystical or abstract ideas through the symbolic use of imagesSee also synthetism
theol any symbolist interpretation of the Eucharist
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for symbolism

1650s, "practice of representing things with symbols," from symbol + -ism. Attested from 1892 as a movement in French literature that aimed at representing ideas and emotions by indirect suggestion rather than direct expression; rejecting realism and naturalism, it attached symbolic meaning to certain objects, words, etc. French symboliste was coined by poet Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) in 1885.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for symbolism




A mental state in which everything that happens is regarded by the individual as symbolic of his or her own thoughts.
The disguised representation in conscious thought of unconscious or repressed contents or events.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.