What is the meaning of significata?

I'm a native English speaker who feels a little silly asking this, but for some reason I can't find it in any dictionary.

I'm guessing it's a (pluralized) synonym for signifier in a signifier-signified relationship, but I'm reading a complicated text so I want to make sure.

"The Obvious Aspects of Ritual". Roy Rappaport. (1979) Ecology, Meaning, and Religion

While some words may have places in both ordinary and liturgical language, there are important differences between litrugical signs, even when they are words, and the words of ordinary discourse. ...[L]iturgical symbols are likely to be "multivocalic," that is, they have a number of significata and ... these significata are likely to have bipolar distribution.

  • 2
    Did you try googling it? Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 4:13
  • Where did you come across this word? It helps if we know the context.
    – Mick
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 4:15
  • Yes, I have tried google's built-in dictionary. I added the context for you Mick
    – Cameron
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 4:29

2 Answers 2




  • A thing which is signified or indicated

(Oxford Dictionary) and (Merriam-Webster)



plural form of Significatum

  • Something that a sign intensionally signifies

This Google Ngram Viewer shows the usage patterns for both significata and significatum.

  • Urgh I should have assumed the Latin plural and tried the singular. Thanks! This question should probably be deleted now...
    – Cameron
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 5:07
  • 1
    @Cameron If you can find it on the site, then it is a duplicate and can be deleted. If not, then leave it here for others who may have the same question in the future.
    – Hank
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 5:11
  • @Cameron A on-site search for significatum and significata redirects to this question only, so it should probably remain. Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 12:44
  • But the answer can be found in commonly available reference, once you know to search for the singular. I think that doesn't change the fact that it's easily referenced; it's more a fault of the dictionary search engines than a qualification of the question's difficulty.
    – Cameron
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 18:08
  • @Cameron That is assuming that future people with this same question already know to look for the singular. If you delete it how will they know to look for the singular? The purpose of ELU is to build a database of knowledge and, in my opinion, this contributes to the database.
    – Hank
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 18:10

Significatum is the neuter single past participle of the Latin verb, significare (to denote, symbolize, stand for), a word familiar to the likes of Cicero and Caesar and imported directly into English as first noted by the OED in 1865. As the neuter past participle, it means the thing denoted. The neuter plural, as Cicero and Caesar could have told you, is significata, meaning the things denoted. It is worth quoting the first example that the printed OED found, in a work called Time and Space. a Metaphysical Essay by English philosopher Shadworth Hollway Hodgson:

It is of the utmost importance in reasoning to distinguish which kind of object or significatum it is which is expressed, or concealed, by a word or set of words....

Although at first glance this seems to be a Latinate banality (you have to know what words mean), Hodgson is talking about two significata that words carry, definitions and descriptions, and it's important to know which one your words refer to.

Roy Rappaport, quoted in the OP, is talking about the meaning of symbols (which may be words or not) in public religious ceremony, and he warns that these symbols may refer to "a number" things (possibly more than Hodgson's two).

  • OED has gotten back to 1684 now: " J. Howe Redeemer's Tears 169 Is in an insignificant sign? a sign that signifies nothing? or to which there belongs no correspondent significatum?" 'Signified' as opposed to 'signifier', in the language chiefly due to Linguistics and Semiotics uses, both offshoots of or variations on the much-reviled "litcrit".
    – JEL
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 6:29
  • @JEL You must have access to the online OED. I'm jealous. Did you spit three times when you wrote litcrit? I always do, just to be on the safe side.
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 7:33
  • I had to convince a stakeholder that online OED access was worth much more than television (which I haven't had for twentyfive years), then convince myself I was flush enough to excuse the expense, etc. Not a difficulty, considering the eminent worthiness of the stakeholder (wife), and my ability to run any kind of con, including a convince, on myself. Oh, and the shaker of salt, left shoulder, went along with the spit. The cats left the room.
    – JEL
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 7:38
  • Have you read The Word Detective by John Simpson, co-editor in charge of the computerization (oops! computerisation) of the OED? Fun read.
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 7:44
  • It sounds entertaining. I'll find a copy to read.
    – JEL
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 7:50

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