On the Variability of Symbols

It’s always dangerous to assume that the meaning another person attaches to a word or a picture or a gesture is the same one that you do.

Consider, for example, the hand sign made by folding down the middle two fingers of one hand while leaving the index finger and little finger extended. Depending on who and where you are, this can mean, variously:

  • I worship Satan.
  • I like heavy metal rock music.
  • Your spouse is cheating on you, ha ha!
  • Bad luck, go away!
  • I am from Texas and am a big fan of the University of Texas Longhorns football team. Shorter version: “Hook ’em, Horns!”

With regard to the last one, there was much confused commentary (outside of Texas, anyhow) about the well-attended and televised funeral service of proud and much-loved Texan Lady Bird Johnson, where the choir and congregation sang the UT fight song “The Eyes of Texas” at the conclusion of the service, accompanied, as is traditional, by the “Hook ’em, Horns!” gesture. Yes, even on the part of the officiating clergy.

One thought on “On the Variability of Symbols

  1. Reblogged this on Madhouse Manor and commented:
    This is also why, in your writing, you want to be careful of invoking songs, poetry, or music: the same piece may mean something very different for your readers than it does for you.

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