The Language of Symbols: Peace


What can you make of the above picture? Symbols have always existed as lenses that appear small but magnify and help you see a bigger meaning even at a short glance. If you think about it, several things could pass for symbols, from numbers to hand gestures to languages. Recent discoveries have led us to believe that the first time symbols were used was about 120,000 years ago when etchings were made on a bone fragment in the Ramle region of central Israel. That is several generations of forefathers ago.

Ramle Bone Fragment
Source: The Times of Israel

Not to deter too long away from today’s topic, we’ll be talking about the peace symbol. It’s not quite because of the Russian-Ukraine War but what better time to talk about peace than when we’re all worried about the possibility of a third world war? The peace symbol is one symbol you have likely come across. Perhaps it was modified and used in another logo, or it was on a shirt you got as a gift. For lovers of mathematics, it is just three lines, one drawn at 90 degrees and the other two at what looks like 45 degrees. For others, it only looks familiar because it reminds them of the Mercedes logo they hope to have in their garage in the future.

Source: Robust Design UK

How did this symbol come to be? The peace symbol was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom, a graphic designer, and Christian pacifist, as a symbol for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. For context, this was the post World War II era and the United Kingdom had just joined the Nuclear Club, following after the United States and the USSR (Soviet Union). People who were only just recovering from the second world war heard a series of test blasts conducted by their country. They marched down to Aldermaston, the British production and storage house for nuclear weapons at the time, to protest this new development. This was where Gerald Holtom’s symbol came in. It was designed to make the “Nuclear Disarmament” message stronger and engrave it in the minds of people.

Source: Robust Design UK

Contrary to what some may think, the three lines were not just strung together randomly. They represented the letters  ‘N’ and ‘D’ of the Semaphore Alphabet, which together stands for Nuclear Disarmament. The Semaphore Alphabet is a telegraphy system used by sailors to convey information at a distance with the aid of hand-held flags.

The symbol designed for the Nuclear Disarmament campaign is now known internationally as the peace symbol and has been widely used in its original and modified forms to connote peace. We hope that the next time you see the symbol, you would remember what it means.


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