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I am quite sure that there is a word for a symbol which was originated by a real-life, physical prototype but has since then outlived its origin.

Most notable example: the save button with floppy drive on it. Also, to a lesser degree, envelopes in email clients, and so on.

The "anachronism" or "metonymy" are close, but not exactly what I'm searching for.

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I think the ampersand & is another example of this; it's Latin et in joined-together letters, but we don't use Latin any more. – Mark Beadles Feb 6 '12 at 12:23
up vote 17 down vote accepted

A skeuomorph is "a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original."

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+1. I didn't even know such a word existed. Nice! – Irene Feb 6 '12 at 12:22
You could always go for broke and coin skeuoglyph! – FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 14:59
Good word; but it seems to be the opposite of what OP is looking for. Skeuomorphs are used to make the new seem familiar by incorporating familiar, but non-functional design. OP refers to symbols whose appearance is no longer familiar, but whose meanings are retained. – Dave Feb 6 '12 at 15:27
@Dave, I think you've misread the definition of skeuomorph. While "make the new seem familiar" is one possible aspect of a skeuomorph, in overall sense the word applies well. See examples in "Digital skeuomorphs" section of referenced article. – jwpat7 Feb 6 '12 at 17:56
Thanks a whole lot!! It's what I have been searching for. – whitequark Feb 6 '12 at 18:43

Are you looking for "relic"? I appreciate that it can mean more than just a symbol.

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'can mean more than just a symbol.': 'relic' is not a symbol in the first place. Nor for that matter is 'vestige.' – Kris Feb 6 '12 at 8:48

You can say the symbol is outmoded, since, for example, the floppy disk icon represents a mode of storage no longer in use.

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This is generally true, but I'm looking for a word which applies exactly to symbols. – whitequark Feb 6 '12 at 8:54

I would suggest using "memento".

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This is really a comment, not an answer to the question. Please use "add comment" to leave feedback for the author. – kiamlaluno Aug 14 '12 at 23:13

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