Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This article about using Ћ to stand for the made me think about how different symbols represent words or phrases. For example: @ means at; % means per cent; # can mean pound or number; ♥ can mean love, as in "I ♥ NY".

It seems right to call these abbreviations, but:

  • Abbreviations can include non-symbols, like AZ for Arizona
  • The symbol may have characters not found in the word (like $ has an S shape in it, even though s is not in dollar), contrary to some definitions of abbreviation

One word I found was ligature, which seems to describe & and the proposed Ћ well. But:

  • Ligature does not describe some symbols shown above (like #)
  • Ligature describes symbols that do not mean words (like æ)

The symbols listed above are what one might see in informal (but standard) shorthand, and it's these I want to describe. Mathematical symbols (like using = to mean equal or the same) can be in the same category. Alphabetic symbols, like X or O to mean kisses or hugs, may be included too.

Is there a name for (and only for) symbols like these?

share|improve this question
"It does not describe some symbols shown above (like #); It describes symbols that do not mean words (like æ)" --> it's not it. –  Kris Jul 8 '13 at 7:09

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted


A logogram, or logograph, is a grapheme which represents a word or a morpheme (the smallest meaningful unit of language). This stands in contrast to phonograms, which represent phonemes (speech sounds) or combinations of phonemes, and determinatives, which mark semantic categories.

Logograms are commonly known also as "ideograms". Strictly speaking, however, ideograms represent ideas directly rather than words and morphemes...

Other dictionaries seem to equate ideograms with logograms. Dictionay.com World English Dictionary for example:


  1. a sign or symbol, used in such writing systems as those of China or Japan, that directly represents a concept, idea, or thing rather than a word or set of words for it

  2. any graphic sign or symbol, such as %, @, &, etc.

share|improve this answer
Nice answer! This works for a subset of the signs the OP asked for, but not for the Ћ at least. –  asteri Jul 6 '13 at 2:56
Everything I read about ideogram seems to fit perfectly with what I'm trying to say! Thanks! –  user39720 Jul 6 '13 at 4:42

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.