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A symbol is literary device that contains several layers of meaning, often concealed at first sight, and is representative of several other aspects, concepts or traits than those that are visible in the literal translation alone. Symbol is using an object or action that means something more than its literal meaning.

Definition of symbol

A symbol is any object that stands for or represents some other thing. A stop sign, for example, is a symbol for the action that the person who sees it must perform. 

In fact, even these very words are symbols: every written letter is a symbol for the sound that would be produced by you if you were to speak the words.  

How they are used

In order to strengthen your grasp of the meaning of symbol, here are some examples of the word being used in real sentences. 

"Although the symbol of the swastika used to represent good luck, it was hijacked by the Nazis, to the point that it would be very difficult to use it anymore in a more innocent way."  

"According to the writer Emerson, all of the physical world of Nature is really a giant symbols that represents the transcendent reality of the Godhead." 

"When the author was asked why his characters always drank so much, he suggested that their behavior was a symbol of their deep discontent with modern life." 

In case you would like further clarification, here are a couple rules you can follow if you would like to use the term symbol in a correct way. 

1. A symbol is always an object (either physical or mental) that represents something else. In principle, any object at all could become a symbol, depending on the intention and consciousness of the person who is making use of the object. 

2. You can call anything a symbol, as long as it refers to something else. For example, a handshake is a symbol of trust; a tear is a symbol of being moved; a nod is a symbol of agreement; and so on. Symbols are really omnipresent, if one begins to think of the world in this kind of way. 

Greater understanding

It is difficult to even speak of the term symbol in a coherent way, due to the fact that the symbol has been an integral part of the very nature of human cognition since the very beginning. Every form of communication between one person and another person, for example, consists of the effective use of one symbol or another. This is true whether the symbol in question is a movement of the body (a facial expression, a hand gesture, and so on) or the use of language. Every word is a symbol. For example, the sound of the word "table" is a symbol for the physical object table; and the written word "table" is itself a symbol for the spoken sound. 

And conversely, the physical table itself could really become a symbol of something else, in the hands of a poet. It could, for example, represent stability, or the love of a family, or the Last Supper. A mental object can thus serve as a symbol of a physical reality, and a physical object can likewise serve as a symbol of a mental reality. Again, this kind of ongoing use of the symbol is essential to the structure of human cognition. There can be no thought or communication of any kind without the perpetual, ongoing use of symbols. 

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