Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Answer: What do these everyday symbols mean?

 Symbol recognition...  

P/C Dan.

... usually happens unconsciously, or at least very rapidly. 

Our world is full of symbols that we see, yet might not really understand.  Here are a few such symbols... what are they?  What do they mean?  (And most importantly, HOW DID YOU LEARN what they are?)  

Let's answer this week's Challenges.  

1.  What's this symbol? What does it mean? Where might you see this?


As a few people pointed out, these Challenges aren't that difficult.  This one is especially easy: you just copy the symbol and then paste into your search engine.  When I paste this character into Google I see this: 

With a nice definition of what the character means.  If you scroll down the page a bit, you'll then see:   

And clicking on the Wikipedia link shows you this: 

Fleuron Wikipedia page

Notice that the highlighted text is the same text that's extracted into the "People also ask" abstract.  VERY handy.  

Answer: This is the "Rotated floral heart bullet emoji" aka the "floral heart" or "hedera" or "aldus leaf."  

(I note in passing that Bing doesn't have anything for this query.)

2.  What's this symbol? What does it mean? Where might you see this?  

Again, this isn't tough... just right click (or Control+click on a Mac) to search for Image with Google.  (Or, if you're old school, you can save the image to your drive and then do a regular reverse image search.)  

But you'll quickly learn that this is the OBA icon.  Okay, what's that?  

The obvious search teaches us that this the "Online Behavioral Advertising" icon indicating that the website follows the AdChoices design guidelines.  

AdChoices is a self-regulatory program for online interest-based advertising  in the United States, Canada, and Europe. 

The idea is that clicking the icon "...provides information from the company that helped bring you the ad and [gives you] a choice to opt out from such interest-based ads using free-to-the-consumer Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) tools."  (Link to and the Wikipedia article on AdChoices.)  

That might be, but until recently, I never really noticed it--I certainly didn't think of it as a clickable target on the page.  Did you? (Just for fun, I finally clicked on one of these icons... it was supremely unhelpful in helping me manage my ads preferences.) 

Answer:  This is the OBA icon that, in principle, will help you manage the ads that are shown to you.  In practice, it's not especially helpful.  

3.  What are these symbols? What do they mean? Where might you see these?  What's the difference between the two symbols?  

Search-by-image is our friend again, but it takes a little more digging to realize that these Power On/Off icons represent two VERY different ways of turning a gadget on-and-off.  From the image search I found the Wikipedia article about the different Power Symbols that are in use.  

The top symbol (vertical bar completely enclosed in a circle) means that this switch turns the power fully ON or fully OFF.  (per IEC 60417-5010

By contrast, the other power symbol (incomplete circle with vertical bar emerging) means that the power system indicates that the switch turns on a sleep mode or low power state. The switch does not fully disconnect the device from its power supply. (per IEC 60417-5009)

Why does this matter?  When power is fully-off, the device consumes no power at all.  As you know, many household devices (TVs, computers, etc.) have a low-power mode, also known as "phantom" or "vampire" power mode.  Something like 25% of household electricity is spent on this low-power mode. (David Pogue, NYTimes)  

I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I was trying to fix a large laser printer while at work. I switched it off, opened the side panel, and had my hand deep inside of the paper trays, trying to unwedge a jammed bit of paper.  Thirty seconds into the repair, as I was wiggling around the jammed paper, I heard an ominous click of a relay.  

Why is a relay clicking now?  

Because the paper trays have an "autoretract" mode that lowers them about 30 seconds after the power button is switched.  Since my hands were in the middle of the paper tray mechanism, this was hugely concerning to me.  It would have been easy for the trays to have sliced off a finger or two in the process.  

And THAT's when I learned the difference between these two icons.  If you're going to put your hands into power machinery, make sure the power is really, truly, fully off.  (I learned to unplug the device from the wall power! I don't trust any switches any more.)  

The good news is that when that relay clicked, I yanked my hands out as if the printer were full of snakes.  I still have all my fingers.  

Answer:  This is important:  these symbols indicate "full on/off" and "toggle between low-power and full-power modes."  

4.  What's this symbol? What does it mean? Where might you see this?


Again, copy/paste into a search engine quickly tells you this is a tilde.  In English, when used before a number it indicates "approximately."  Example:  The baker used ~20 cups of flour to make a giant batch of pizza dough.

Tilde is also commonly seen in Spanish words such as español (no, the lower case e is not a typo) where the ñ character is just another character.  A few other languages also use a tilde as diacritical mark (e.g., in Vietnamese where a tilde over a vowel indicates a creaky, rising tone--e.g., in ngã).  

What I did not know until I starting reading about tildes is that they're sometimes used to indicate a flirtatious tone in short messages (e.g., Having a great night ~~~!)  

The history and other uses of tilde are fascinating.  Check out the Wikipedia article if you've got a few moments--it's a great read~~~!  

Answer: it's a tilde, which has multiple uses.  


5.  What's this symbol? What does it mean? Where might you see this?

A fast search-by-image reveals that this is the "hot surface" icon.  (ISO standard symbol 4000-0535).  Oddly, I did not know this, even though I saw this icon on my instant pot cooker at home.  Makes sense, but only if you know how to read hieroglyphs.  

Seeing the standardized icon again (with the power icons from above) made me want to look a bit more deeply into the ISO standard symbol set.  I discovered that you can browse the ISO symbol set easily, finding some old friends, icons and gylphs that you easily recognize, and others that you can't.  

From the ISO symbol browser:

Answer: For our symbol, it's the "hot surface" icon. Don't touch!  

SearchResearch Lessons  

1.  Use search-by-image freely!  When you see unknown symbols in the world, it's a quick search to figure out what they are... and what they mean.  You might, as in the case of the ODA icon, learn about something that's clearly a political workaround that defies common sense--but you'll gain an insight into how companies are thinking about what protections they offer you.  Or, as in the case of the tilde, you'll learn something about how modern hieroglyphs are being used today, with meanings that might surprise you!  

Keep Searching! 


  1. Thanks, Dr. Russell. As you said it was not that hard but lots of fun and always something to learn either searching or with lateral search.

    Also one thing that I love from your Challenges is that once you read something here, it will come again and again in our lives in news, articles and in our lives without the Internet.

    As for example, today, this waterfall. It's different but beautiful

    Out of topic, but related to previous challenges (Music and Italy), Journey with Andrea Bocelli is totally worthy of enjoying

  2. I found your blog post about the meanings behind everyday symbols to be fascinating. It's amazing how many symbols we encounter on a daily basis and yet we may not know their true significance.

    Regarding the keyword "Can I Return An Air Mattress To Walmart" in your comment prompt, while it may not be directly related to your post, as a language model, I can certainly provide some information on the topic.

    According to Walmart's return policy, air mattresses can be returned within 90 days of purchase, as long as they are in their original packaging and have not been used. If the mattress has been used or the packaging is missing, Walmart may not accept the return for more detail Read Now.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights on the meanings behind everyday symbols. I always learn something new from your blog posts and look forward to reading more in the future.