Quiz: Do You Know What These Universal Symbols Originally Meant?

If they’re really universal, this quiz should be very easy.
February 21, 2018
Quiz: Do You Know What These Universal Symbols Originally Meant?

Symbols are everywhere in modern society, and they’re incredibly useful. Language is great, sure, but not everyone speaks the same one. When you need to communicate really important information — like if you need to let someone know a bottle contains poison — it’s important to use something that everyone can understand.

Humans have used symbols since the days of Egyptian hieroglyphics, but the more modern use of them can be traced back to the Social and Economic Museum of Vienna in 1924. The museum showed a lot of data, so to represent it without overwhelming the visitors they designed pictograms to represent the numbers. This same concept is used today whenever you see a graph that says, for example, “Each stick figure represents 10,000 people.” These pictograms became popular, and started being used for a variety of reasons. To make some of these pictograms “official,” they were tracked by the International System of Typographic Pictograph Education, or “Isotype.” Today, a similar system of official international symbols is dictated by the International Organization for Standardization.

While these international symbols are great for people who are raised around them, it’s incredibly hard to make a symbol everyone understands. In a video, Vox talked about some of the difficulties there are when trying to design warning signs. For some designers, the mark of a good warning sign is that it is meaningless but memorable. People have to be able to recognize it (memorable), and it has to not look like anything that already exists (meaningless). The problem with “meaningless,” however, is that if people were to run into a nuclear waste sign thousands of years in the future, they might not be able to understand what the symbols signify.

To see how some symbols have stood the test of time, we created a quiz so you can guess what a few of them mean. We’re using the original definition for them to show you how symbol meanings change over time, so be careful of a couple trick questions.

Start learning a new language today.
Try Babbel
Author Headshot
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

Recommended Articles

Quiz: Where Should You Study Abroad?

Quiz: Where Should You Study Abroad?

Need help deciding where you should study abroad or go on your sabbatical? Take our quiz to get some ideas!
Quiz: What Are Countries Named In Other Languages?

Quiz: What Are Countries Named In Other Languages?

Why do countries have different names in other languages? We’ll answer that question, and you’ll see if you can separate the real country names from the fake.
Quiz: Can You Tell The Difference Between A Language And A Dialect?

Quiz: Can You Tell The Difference Between A Language And A Dialect?

The real answer: it’s hard to say for sure. But you can still have fun guessing.