In a recent meta post about the tag, Rand makes the point that way the tag is currently being used is very broad:

... 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.

I personally find that (1) the symbolism tag doesn't have a clear purpose, and (2) as a result it gets applied inconsistently. This makes it worthless as it's 50/50 odds that a question tagged has been tagged correctly.

When should questions be tagged with the symbolism tag? What purpose should this tag have on this site?

2 Answers 2


Let's use tags for their broadest, daily meaning.

If ones want to restrict to a narrow definition, then specific technical terms can of course be used, but let's avoid restricting our definitions to literary jargon as this will make misuse inevitable.

Any time there is something that represents more than its literal meaning, this can be an example of symbolism.

Some random non-intellectual definition of symbolism

I think we should stick to those broad, "daily-use" definitions.

  • So ... allegory should count under the symbolism tag then? Allegories are definitely about things representing more than their literal meaning.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 11:03
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    @Randal'Thor allegories do not represent more than their literal meaning: they represent something else than their literal meaning
    – VicAche
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 11:06
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    I don't understand what distinction you're drawing there. Those things seem to mean exactly the same. And whatever your distinction is, it must involve nitpicky wordplay rather than "broad, daily-use definitions". In any ordinary, everyday context, as opposed to technical nitpicky jargon, allegories do represent more than their literal meaning.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 11:13
  • @Randal'Thor i) I think we're having this discussion in the wrong place, we should be looking at site consistency rather than personal consistency ii) "The representation of abstract principles by characters or figures." Represent, not imply, alludes, leads-to, etc. It's plain, it's crystal clear, there is no second meaning: the second meaning is the first meaning in an allegory, as opposed to a symbol.
    – VicAche
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 11:41
  • I disagree, because then symbolism's meaning is so broad it could be used for everything.
    – user111
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 15:37

The symbolism tag currently seems to be used as a tag to denote questions about the meaning of a scene. It's being used in a way similar to the , which we agreed to get rid of because about half of the questions on the site could fall under that category.

I think we should give symbolism it's strict definition: the hidden meaning behind objects that stand for something else. And aggressively retag questions that don't meet this criteria. Right now, the tag is so broad that it's useless.

  • Downvoted for this: "Otherwise the tag risks becoming so broad that it's useless." My opinion is in beta, we should not fix problems before we encounter them. Count me in as a volunteer if we need a fixing emergency squad at some point in the future!
    – VicAche
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 18:41
  • @VicAche we've already encountered this problem. Only 25% of meaning questions are tagged with the symbolism tag: seeing a question tagged symbolism tells me nothing about the question at this point due to how inconsistently the tag is applied.
    – user111
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 18:47
  • "The symbolism tag currently seems to be used as a tag to denote questions about the meaning of a scene." - NO. Absolutely not. We have the meaning tag for that. I've even been keeping an eye on these two tags to try to make sure they're not confused. The symbolism tag is being used for symbolic or metaphorical meaning, and the meaning tag for straightforward or literal meaning.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 23:28
  • @Randal'Thor the meaning tag has 14 questions, and I know that we have more questions about meaning than that. Clearly it isn't being used widely. Maybe that's a sign that we should get rid of the meaning tag?
    – user111
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 23:40
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    @Randal'Thor straightforward v. metaphorical meaning: nothing about the names of symbolism or meaning would imply that. And I'm not sure whether that's a useful division to have in the first place. I don't think we should have tags that denote the type of meaning the question is talking about: oftentimes the OP thinks they're asking about "straightforward" meaning when the text's meaning is really symbolic, etc.
    – user111
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 23:41
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    @Hamlet True, the meaning tag hasn't been used on all the questions where it could apply. IMO, that's an argument for adding it to those extra questions rather than for abolishing it.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 10:50

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