Every day we see a lot of signs and symbols. PrintGround.net decided to look into the origin of famous symbols used to convey important information.

Origin of famous Symbols explained

Every day we see a lot of signs and symbols. We use them to convey important information or express strong emotions. But not everyone knows how these symbols originated and whether we use them correctly. PrintGround.net decided to look into the origin of famous Symbols and found 9 which most people use every day but don’t know how they were created and implemented in the first place. 

The Peace symbol (✌)

peace sign origin

During the Second World War, Winston Churchill revived this gesture as a symbol of peace. 

For the first time the gesture was used after a 100-year war between England and France. The French threatened to cut off the British archers’ fingers, with which they held arrows during the shooting. And after the victory, the British raised their thumbs up in the form of the letter “V” from the word Victory (victory). So they showed that their fingers are in place.

During the Second World War, Winston Churchill revived this gesture as a symbol of peace. For this, the hand should be turned with the palm of the hand to the person it is addressed to. If you show the sign facing with the back of the hand, the gesture takes an offensive meaning “shut up” or “get away”.

Infinity symbol (∞)


Between 1643 and 1689 he served as chief cryptographer for Parliament and, later, the royal court. He is credited with introducing the symbol ∞ for infinity.

The symbol of infinity was first used by mathematician John Wallis in 1655. No one knows what inspired him to choose exactly such a mapping of infinity. Some believe that it was the Greek letter omega (Ω/ω). Others say that the symbol originated from the Roman number 1,000, which looked like “CIƆ” (or “CƆ”) and had the meaning of “a lot”.

Percentage symbol (%)

percentage symbol origin

Usage of percentage symbol used in a 1685 arithmetic text (author unknown) reprinted in Rara Arithmetica by D.E. Smith, with symbol circled in red.

The very word “percent” came from the Latin combination pro centum (“one hundred”). And the symbol appeared from the Italian version per cento. This expression was often used until 1425. First they wrote “per cento”, “per 100”, “p cento”, and then “pc-o”. The abbreviation “pc” gradually turned into a sign of the horizontal fraction “o / o” and only then in the symbol familiar to us.

Exclamation symbol (!)

exclamation mark symbol origin

It wasn’t until 1970 that the exclamation point had its own key on the keyboard. Before that, you had to type a period, and then use the backspace to go back and stick an apostrophe above it.

Most likely, this symbol arose from the Latin word exclamatio, which was put at the end of the sentence to express joy. It was shortened to the letters “i” and “o”, which were written on top of each other. Later this designation turned into a “!” Sign.

The Dollar symbol ($)

Dollar symbol $

No one knows exactly where the dollar symbol came from, but there are several versions of its origin.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, the most popular currency was the Spanish reais. They were called peso and sometimes shortened to “PS”. Over time, the letter “P” remained only a stick, which was written on the letter “S”.

According to another version, the “S” sign is two pillars with a ribbon. That is, the Spanish coat of arms, a symbol of power and financial stability. According to legend, Hercules erected 2 rocks on the shore in honor of his exploits. And the waves that wash the rocks are the letter “S”.

Another version says that in the era of colonization, the Spaniards put the letter “S” on gold bars when they were shipped from America. Upon arrival, they were applied a vertical strip, and when sending them back – another.

The Arrow symbol (↑)

Arrow symbol origin

If we are talking about looking at it back to the emergence of humans, obviously, and strictly, an arrow meant killing an animal for food. In that sense, it is a symbol of the hunt or food gathering. A very primitive thing. The arrow symbol represents survival and taking of a wild spirit. It may be the oldest symbolic non human, non animal body part out there. Albeit, usually in the form of the spear or tip of spear or arrow with feathers.

It is believed that the modern symbol of the arrow came to us from ancient Greece. At that time the direction was indicated by the footprint of the foot in the desired direction. In the Greek city of Ephesus, the image of a foot track and a woman’s face indicated a local brothel. During heavy rain and storms, this designation often merged and turned into the familiar arrow symbol.

Question mark symbol (?)

Question mark symbol origin

Rather fittingly, the origins of the question mark are clouded in myth and mystery. One of the most appealing stories links the curve of the question mark to the shape of an inquisitive cat’s tail. A parallel story suggests that the exclamation mark derives from the shape of a surprised cat’s tail!

In ancient times, most books were written in Latin. When a question was raised, the word questio was placed at the end of the sentence (from the Latin “question”). And to save valuable space, it was reduced to “qo”, placing “q” over “o”. In the 16th century due to the illegible italic “q” turned into a hook, and “o” – to the point.

There is another version. According to her, the sign came from Greece. At the end of the sentence, the Greeks put a semicolon. And if it was a question, then the semicolon was simply swapped.

The ‘at’symbol (@)

the at @ symbol

Called the “snail” by Italians and the “monkey tail” by the Dutch, @ is the sine qua non of electronic communication, thanks to e-mail addresses and Twitter handles. @ has even been inducted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, which cited its modern use as an example of “elegance, economy, intellectual transparency, and a sense of the possible future directions that are embedded in the arts of our time.”

One theory is that medieval monks, looking for shortcuts while copying manuscripts, converted the Latin word for “toward”—ad—to “a” with the back part of the “d” as a tail. Or it came from the French word for “at”—à—and scribes, striving for efficiency, swept the nib of the pen around the top and side. Or the symbol evolved from an abbreviation of “each at”—the “a” being encased by an “e.” 

The symbol’s modern obscurity ended in 1971, when a computer scientist named Ray Tomlinson was facing a vexing problem: how to connect people who programmed computers with one another. Tomlinson’s eyes fell on @, poised above “P” on his Model 33 teletype. “I was mostly looking for a symbol that wasn’t used much,” he told Smithsonian. “And there weren’t a lot of options—an exclamation point or a comma. I could have used an equal sign, but that wouldn’t have made much sense.” Tomlinson chose @—“probably saving it from going the way of the ‘cent’ sign on computer keyboards,” he says. Using his naming system, he sent himself an e-mail, which traveled from one teletype in his room, through Arpanet, and back to a different teletype in his room.

The USB symbol

usb symbol origin

What is great design, but something that is simple and self explanatory in itself?

Created as part of the USB1.0 spec, the USB icon was drawn to resemble Neptune’s Trident The Mighty Dreizack. In lieu of the pointed triangles at the tip of the three -pronged spear the USB promoters decided to alter the shape to a Triangle, Square and a Circle. This was done to signify all the different peripherals that could be attached Using the standard.

All this might be true, or you can also consider an alternative story that the designer simply designed this, without much of a thought, and right now, here we are, pondering over its mysteries, wanting to know the meaning behind the USB logo.

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