VIN Entry #2 – Icons, Metonyms and Metaphors

18 Sep

As one of Charles Sanders Peirce’s three categories of signs, an icon is directly symbolic of the thing it is representing. It can be either exactly representative, like a photograph, or stylistically representative, like the example below.

An image I put together to illustrate this point

An image I put together to illustrate this point

This image, we know, is directly representative of a fork and knife. This image also works on a symbolic level because we understand through our past experience and agreed meaning that seeing this sign means that food is available.
Signs use a number of ways to communicate ideas. One of the most powerful is by way of metaphor. A symbol or an icon of an object can easily become a metaphor for an idea or feeling through past experience and agreed meaning.

An image I put together to illustrate this point

An image I put together to illustrate this point

This tree, for example, can become a metaphor for growth or strength, depending on how it is juxtaposed with other images or text. In certain juxtapositions, it could become a metonym, representing all trees, or all growth.

An image I put together to illustrate this point

An image I put together to illustrate this point

With an oversized gun pointed to it, the tree suddenly becomes a metonym for all trees, threatened by some overbearing force. Metonyms and metaphors are powerful tools for conveying ideas or emotions behind images.

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