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Symbols
October 3, 2005 7:54 AM   Subscribe

✙ ☪ ◊? The addition of a third protective symbol (fourth, if you count this happy lion) will allow the Magen David Adom of Israel to join the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies after over 50 years. It might look odd, but a lot of other symbols we take for granted have interesting recent origins. ☮ was designed in 1958. ☣ was created by Dow in 1966. ☢ first appeared as a doodle in the 1940s. The symbols of the planets have many origins, but here on earth, the origins of ☺ remain so convoluted that it might take a fictional "symbologist" to sort it all out.
posted by blahblahblah (44 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Oooo, squares! (no language packs added)
posted by cleverusername at 7:59 AM on October 3, 2005


And what font/language pack is it we need to view this properly?
posted by deusdiabolus at 8:16 AM on October 3, 2005


Why are these organizations tied to religious symbols in the first place?
posted by signal at 8:17 AM on October 3, 2005


Why are these organizations tied to religious symbols in the first place?

Because of a misunderstanding over the origins of the Red Cross symbol:

The red cross was adopted to identify medics and ambulances in war zones in 1863. The emblem was the reverse of the Swiss flag, a long-standing symbol of neutrality.

But it was soon apparent that the red cross would not be universally accepted. The Ottoman empire unilaterally declared that it would use the red crescent during the Russo-Turkish war of 1876. Soon Persia secured the use of the red lion and sun, while Siam made an attempt to use a red flame.

posted by unreason at 8:21 AM on October 3, 2005


Apparently the question mark has lots of different origins. Any help for those of us who are language pack/font deprived?
posted by antifuse at 8:24 AM on October 3, 2005


one answer
posted by NinjaPirate at 8:33 AM on October 3, 2005


I think that it's kinda bullshit that the only not acceptable religious symbol is the Jewish star. I'm not saying that it's anti-semetic. But if the "sign system" was intended to treat equally the various religions, then all of the religious shapes would be surrounded by the diamond border, right? I mean, the thai flame and the Jewish star are not worthy (cool enough?) to stand on their own? No, it's that they're potentially inflamatory and therefore must be subjugated.

This is a bullshit compromise.
posted by zpousman at 8:36 AM on October 3, 2005


I've always wondered who came up with the biohazard symbol. It just seems radiate evil to me. Thanks blahblahblah!
posted by bitmage at 8:42 AM on October 3, 2005


I think that it's kinda bullshit that the only not acceptable religious symbol is the Jewish star. I'm not saying that it's anti-semetic.

Ok, I'll say it. It's anti-semetic. The cross is ok. The cresent is ok. But when it's a Star of David, it's not ok. I fail to see any other logical interpretation other than anti-semetism.
posted by unreason at 8:43 AM on October 3, 2005


The biohazard symbol has always represented the structure of a virus to me. Which is appropriate.
posted by NinjaPirate at 8:47 AM on October 3, 2005


Hee, that lion cracks me up. Time to look at it again, heehee, oh little lion, swing that sword!
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:47 AM on October 3, 2005


let us not forget these
posted by poppo at 8:51 AM on October 3, 2005


its funny that you associate so much with the biohazard symbol, since it was original chosen because people didn't associate it with anything.

As far as the red star goes, well, people had been using the red cross/red crescent (and red lion) for like like a hundred years.

The cross isn't meant to be religious, it's just that the Europeans were so steeped in Christianity they didn't even notice it. Still, it's not really a 'cross' so much as it is a 'plus sign'

The lion does seem a bit militaristic for a neutral thing, though.
posted by delmoi at 8:54 AM on October 3, 2005


"its funny that you associate so much with the biohazard symbol, since it was original chosen because people didn't associate it with anything."
delmoi - one word:clouds
posted by NinjaPirate at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2005


from Charles Baldwin on creating the biohazard symbol:

' Naturally, I'm proud of the fact that I was able to come up with something, or direct a program that evolved into this symbol that's so widely recognized, so helpful. But I ran into a peculiar situation one time a couple years ago when someone was putting on a seminar on biohazards. As gifts for the participants, he devised a beautiful tie with little biohazard symbols all over it. This got me upset, and I sent him kind of a nasty letter saying this symbol was not designed to be used sartorially.'

I want one.
posted by recurve at 9:08 AM on October 3, 2005


Man, that red lion is great, but it got me thinking. Are the motels of the same name recognized by the Geneva Convention?
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:10 AM on October 3, 2005


Have these symbols always been there? I know the unicode characters are expansive, and I use it for Japanese language support, but I'm constantly surprised by characters I didn't even know were there.
posted by mystyk at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2005


Didn't Forrest Gump invent the smiley face?

hated that movie
posted by Justin Case at 9:31 AM on October 3, 2005


I think the first linked article was pretty clear that the avoidance of the star isn't anti-semitism; rather, it is because of others' anti-semitism. That is, some groups see a star, and make it a target. There's also a mention of the cross being problematic for the same reason.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:41 AM on October 3, 2005


The cross isn't meant to be religious, it's just that the Europeans were so steeped in Christianity they didn't even notice it. Still, it's not really a 'cross' so much as it is a 'plus sign'

*blinks*
posted by mzurer at 10:03 AM on October 3, 2005


I like the Red Crystal, but I hope that the Skeksis don't get offended.
posted by bshort at 10:06 AM on October 3, 2005


The red cross wasnt religious? And looks like a plus sign??

Umm...have a look at the symbols and medical hospice history of the Knights of the Hospitallers and even more so the Knights of the Templar. Both of which helped with the care of the wounded after battle.

And both of whom fought together against the Muslims during the crusade.

No wonder the Persians and Ottomans wanted no truck with it. (pun intended)
posted by rawfishy at 10:09 AM on October 3, 2005


I know a lot of folks who'll be mighty offended if we don't get a Red Noodly Appendage equivalent right quick.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:37 AM on October 3, 2005


The red cross wasnt religious? And looks like a plus sign??

If you were to read the article, you would see that the Red Cross was not chosen for religious reasons, but because it is the inverse of the Swiss flag, the Swiss being associated with neutrality.
posted by unreason at 10:54 AM on October 3, 2005


The history of whether the red Star of David should be included has actually quite complex. A 1929 meeting that closed the set of symbols to three (the red star wasn't submitted until 1930). However, the red star was almost accepted in 1949, and was voted down by a margin of 21 votes in favor and 22 votes against. The main reason given over the years for why the red star wouldn't be accepted has been the reason in the main link of the article (too many symbols), but the US Red Cross has actually come out and said that they believe discrimination underlies the decision. The president of the US Red Cross said back in 2000 that, "The international committee's feared proliferation of symbols is a pitiful fig leaf, used for decades as the reason for excluding the Magen David Adom - the Shield (or Star) of David." The IRCRC obviously disagrees.

I didn't want to get into the whole history in the FPP, since I thought focusing on the symbols was more interesting, but, since it has come up...
posted by blahblahblah at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2005


Even if the Red Cross DID have a religious significance (which it doesn't), it is internationally recognized and respected, along with the crescent and apparently the lion. This crappy little diamond is part of a backlash effort by anti-religious groups to purge any semblance of religion from secular institutions, though their efforts may be irrational, or if rational they eliminate a long history behind the symbols and their usage.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:10 PM on October 3, 2005


If the red cross is based on the Swiss flag, then it's based on Christianity.
posted by eamondaly at 12:13 PM on October 3, 2005


If the red cross is based on the Swiss flag, then it's based on Christianity.

Only indirectly. That's a bit like saying the following: Christians got the Christmas tree from the Pagans. Department stores have Christmas trees. Therefore, department store staff is mostly composed of Celtic Pagans.
posted by unreason at 12:17 PM on October 3, 2005


Actually, unreason, it's more like saying that because the tree is based on a pagan ritual, it has no Christian significance.

Which is sometimes put forward. Incorrectly, somewhat intolerantly, although not neccesarily from an outlook of intolerance in all cases.
posted by mzurer at 12:30 PM on October 3, 2005


I find it rather amusing that the people here who got their knickers in a twist over "anti-Semitism" can't even spell the word correctly...

zpousman, unreason, before you dismiss the "we don't want to encourage the proliferation of religious signs" argument out of hand, what would you think if the Hindus started the Red Swastika? In fact, it seems that Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) already asked for it in 1957, and India in 1977...
posted by Skeptic at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2005


This crappy little diamond is part of a backlash effort by anti-religious groups to purge any semblance of religion from secular institutions, though their efforts may be irrational, or if rational they eliminate a long history behind the symbols and their usage.

Well, considering the fact that the Red Cross is a secular movement, and that there are existing problems within the organization and its members with respect to the religous symbols, I don't really see the downside to coming up with a whole new symbol that everyone can use and that offends no one, and, more importantly, doesn't make anyone a target.
posted by bshort at 1:15 PM on October 3, 2005


One of the options the MDA proposed regarding the symbol issue was to create a neutral symbol and use the current cross/crescent/star/what have you as symbols of affiliation. This is really the best option because it acknowledges the dual meanings of the symbols—as a signifier of neutrality in a war zone, and as a cultural identifier (I hesitate to say religious because that's an inflection given to the symbols by others, and not necessarily indicative of an overt religious mission). Plus it would give the MDA equal presence alongside the other Red Cross/Crescent agencies, while allowing for the possibility of other socieities to use different symbols while still being protected by the primary neutrality symbol.

But honestly, I don't know why such a big deal is made over the use of any symbol at all, outside of utilitarian concerns (OMG DON'T SHOOT AT US WE HELP SICK PEOPLE). The overriding mission of all these agencies is roughly the same, yes? And I know I wouldn't care if the truck that came to offer me assistance had a big ol' Star of David on it, or a Crescent, or a life-sized Flying Spaghetti Monster mascot. Not to say that we should eliminate all the symbols in favour of the new crystal symbol, but why is it so crucial that we identify the Red Cross as a western/Christian agency, or the Red Crescent as a middle eastern one?
posted by chrominance at 1:17 PM on October 3, 2005


"...in protest at the exclusion of Israel, the American Red Cross has held back its payments to the International Red Cross Movement."

I see columns of ominously white vehicles with big red crosses on the flanks, heading towards rows of white trucks emblazoned with vicious red crescents, helicopters bearing red David stars swooping down on the theatre and paramedics stabbing each other in the back with hypodermic syringes, bleeding their infected blood on enemy nurses.

I see regular military vehicles and infantry in the back, doing what the military does best, burying the white-cloaked maniacally grinning dead GPs and making sure the wounded are dead before burying them too.
posted by Laotic at 1:25 PM on October 3, 2005


fascinating
posted by yousoundhollow at 1:26 PM on October 3, 2005


Biohazard: It isn't easy to sketch, but it gets the point across. Lesser minds might have gone with pictograms of multiple-headed babies or breadloaf-sized tumors, but the creators of the biohazard symbol managed to come up with a completely abstract icon that nonetheless perfectly conveys the concept "something nearby will fuck you and/or your offspring up in a disturbingly organic manner." Plus it has radial symmetry, which I always appreciate in life-threatening situations. A+

- from Lore Sjöberg's Book of Ratings
posted by zsazsa at 1:35 PM on October 3, 2005


Miscellaneous Symbols in Unicode.
posted by Eideteker at 2:09 PM on October 3, 2005


Man there's a severe ☈ outside and I'm gonna need an ☂.
posted by wakko at 3:01 PM on October 3, 2005


☉ 9737 2609 SUN

I thought that was hydrogen. Jeesh. Ya would've thought that the people creating these characters had watched Star Trek or something.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:06 PM on October 3, 2005


But honestly, I don't know why such a big deal is made over the use of any symbol at all, outside of utilitarian concerns (OMG DON'T SHOOT AT US WE HELP SICK PEOPLE).

You're halfway there. The sanctity of the symbol is protected by international treaty. Use of the symbol confers special legal status on the bearer, and misuse is conceivably a war crime.

One can understand an argument against a proliferation of "special status" symbols -- war zones are confusing enough places as it is -- but the historical opposition to the Red Star of David is pretty plainly tied to political opinion of the one place it is used, the State of Israel. That MDA is able to accept the diamond compromise, which could also apply in other "exception" situations, and the ICRC is not (and also unmoved to eliminate the moribund Red Lion), does seem to say something all by itself.
posted by dhartung at 8:20 PM on October 3, 2005


Actually I think the red swastika would be great. It's well past time to reclaim the symbol.
posted by snarfodox at 10:04 PM on October 3, 2005


Funny, but I always saw the red cross as two bandaids.
posted by HTuttle at 10:29 PM on October 3, 2005


(Uh I mean "generic adhesive bandages". Don't wanna get sued!)
posted by HTuttle at 10:30 PM on October 3, 2005


I think that it's kinda bullshit that the only not acceptable religious symbol is the Jewish star. I'm not saying that it's anti-semetic.

Ok, I'll say it. It's anti-semetic. The cross is ok. The cresent is ok. But when it's a Star of David, it's not ok. I fail to see any other logical interpretation other than anti-semetism.


Sure, but since they have all the oil, we gotta overlook a few thinngs.
posted by HTuttle at 10:33 PM on October 3, 2005


PurplePorpoise, ☉ in that context is the astrological symbol for the sun (explained in one of the links in the FPP).
posted by zsazsa at 9:49 AM on October 4, 2005


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