I just noticed that we have an tag (2 questions) as well as the tag (75 questions). Do we need both of these tags, and if so, what's the difference between them and how do we make this clear?

(Since the tag is hardly used at all, I could have simply edited it out and replaced it by . But the concepts which are the subjects of these tags are very important in literature, so I thought this was a big enough discussion to warrant a meta post.)

  • 1
    Symbolism and allegory are very different. In short (and I haven't researched this, fyi) an allegory is an extended metaphor, like an entire work that stands for something, instead of a specific object or action. Even the question you point out here is not about the work itself being an allegory (the answer describes it being autobiographical, and symbolism in one or two things. Not an allegory.)
    – CHEESE
    Apr 5, 2017 at 1:59
  • @CHEESE I know they're different. That's the very first section of my answer. But the essential concepts are related enough, IMO, to fall under the same umbrella tag.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 5, 2017 at 9:53

2 Answers 2


Leave it alone for now.

Tags need to be used in ways that make sense to the citizens, or the tags won't get used "right" no matter how much we wiki them (on RPG.SE we have tags that say in capslock "THIS IS NOT A VALID TAG DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS WHICH NEED THIS TAG" and we still get new questions using those tags).

So I don't see any way to usefully rule on until we have enough instances of it that we can confidently say what the Stack's current use of the tag is. Let's table this until we've got a better sense of what the situation is. Once we have a meaningful sample of how is being used, then we can see if it's appreciably different from and we can decide if something needs to change.

  • So in a few weeks or months, when we have enough allegory questions, do we start a new question on the same issue, or would you delete this answer since the "for now" no longer holds?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 9, 2017 at 22:38
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    Since your current question is very much of this moment and you'd have to edit it into something completely new based on whatever new information we have in the future... a new question seems reasonable. (If somehow this question's specific phrasing remains relephant, I wouldn't delete my answer because it's part of the conversation, but I'd edit it to indicate that it was responding to an earlier iteration of the issue.)
    – BESW
    Apr 9, 2017 at 22:40
  • Fair enough. Upvoted.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 9, 2017 at 22:56

Allegory and symbolism aren't exactly the same ...

I did some research before posting this Q&A, and found many different online discussions of the difference between allegory and symbolism. From Quora, for example:

A symbol is something that represents something else, usually greater than itself (e.g., a tree can be a symbol of life).

Allegories are narratives that have a symbolic meaning, like fables or parables.They represent some aspect of life, or life itself, and contain symbols.

Aesop's fable of the ant and the grasshopper is an allegory of the importance of hard work and planning for the future. The ant is a symbol of industry and prevision.

Essentially, it seems that both are based on the same idea (one thing representing another), but an allegory is an entire story set up to symbolise something different, while a symbol is more likely to be an object within the story.

... but we've been using in a very broad way.

Our questions tagged with include not only ones about symbolic objects (e.g. What does the sukebind represent? or What is the greater meaning of the thrush?) but also ones about symbolism on a wider scale: symbolism of actions, events, or even entire works, such as What is the significance of the fact that the covered wagons were traveling East at the end of Atlas Shrugged? or Is there any deeper significance to Borges's "The South"? or What's the significance of the witches' name change in Sandman?

There were some recent comments about this sort of issue between myself, Hamlet, and DVK on one of my questions, but they seem to have been deleted. If I recall correctly, Hamlet was arguing that "symbolism" should only refer to symbolic objects and not to actions or events. But the usage so far of the tag (our most used tag!) tells a different story.

Funnily enough, one of the two questions, What did the Roll which the Shining Ones delivered to Christian represent?, is actually about what is represented by a particular object, so I doubt anyone would disagree that it should be tagged .

So the question is: do we want to differentiate between allegory and symbolism in our tags?

Having two separate tags for these two notions would require explaining the difference clearly in the tag wiki excerpts, editing probably a few dozen existing questions, and continuing to retag new questions as they come in because many people still won't get the difference between allegory and symbolism. Rolling the two into one would be more consistent with existing practice and would make curation easier going forwards.

And after all, the two concepts are closely related: we're not talking about putting two completely different things under the same header just for ease of administration. Actions, events, or entire stories can be symbolic even if it would be strange to refer to them as symbols; and the name of the main tag is , not .

However, we should definitely keep as a synonym, so that people who type allegory into the tag box will use the right tag rather than recreating a different one over and over again. So:

TL;DR: make a synonym of .

  • 6
    -1 for make allegory a synonym of symbolism: they are very different things, and the difference isn't just some nitpicking academic debate.
    – user111
    Apr 4, 2017 at 14:29
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    @Hamlet Which part of my argument do you disagree with?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 4, 2017 at 14:30
  • 2
    @Hamlet They're different things, but one of them is essentially a subset of the other, at least in the way we've been defining it for this site. An allegory is a story with a symbolic level of meaning; therefore, it involves a kind of symbolism.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 4, 2017 at 14:40
  • @Randal'Thor Allegories: unambiguous representations of abstract ideas, using an arbitrary connection | Symbols: context-specific representations using a non-arbitrary connection of meanings. E.g. a) if in a poem a tiger symbolises force, it would bring down the meaning to consider it as just "force", other aspects of the tiger may be important. b) if tiger in a newspaper article is an allegory of India, then you can just substitute the tiger for India and won't lose out much on the meaning
    – VicAche
    Apr 6, 2017 at 10:38
  • Sorry, -1 for TLDR. Having a subset (even if your argument on the subject is correct which I'm not sure I fully agree on) an alias of superset isn't an established practice in tagging. E.g. see per-work and other specific Harry Potter tags on SFF, which are NOT aliases of "harry-potter" (or if you want, I can offer SO examples)
    – DVK
    Apr 9, 2017 at 14:00

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