Symbol of the Year and Other Notable Symbols: Annual Vote

Each year since 2012, alumni/ae, students, and faculty of Stanford's Symbolic Systems Program have voted for a Symbol of the Year and other Notable Symbols. The Symbolic Systems Program focuses on human and computational systems that use symbols to communicate and to represent information. As affiliates of the Symbolic Systems Program, we select a Symbol of the Year and other Notable Symbols and announce them at the end of each year, in recognition of the important role that symbols play in our world.

The Symbol of the Year and other Notable Symbols are not necessarily new symbols in the year when they are recognized (although they can be). Rather, these designations are for symbols that have achieved widespread cultural importance during the year of voting. The idea of an annual vote for Notable Symbols was inspired by the American Dialect Society's annual Word of the Year vote. It was anticipated by the writer Lindy West, when she playfully designated the hashtag character ("#") as the "Symbol of the Year" at the end of 2010.

A symbol is both used and understood to represent a concept, object, location, event, quantity, or linguistic unit. Types of symbols include the following:

  • a flag or emblem (e.g. the Olympic flag, the AIDS awareness ribbon, a police badge, a union label)
  • a costume or garment (e.g. a graduation gown, a cowboy hat, the Guy Fawkes mask)
  • a grapheme, written character, or glyph (e.g. the '+' sign, the lowercase 'e', the Helvetica 'A')
  • a hand signal or gesture (e.g. the 'A-Okay' sign, a military salute)
  • an iconic object or animal (e.g. the Statue of Liberty, the black cat)
  • a symbolic place (e.g. the agora, the Kremlin)
  • an ideogram (e.g. the peace symbol, the caduceus symbol of commerce)
  • a logo (e.g. the Red Cross logo, the Apple Inc. logo)
  • a shape (e.g. the crescent, the upside-down triangle)
  • a pictogram (e.g. the International Symbol of Access, the Universal Recycling Symbol)
  • a screen icon (e.g. the magnifying glass/search icon, the trash icon)
  • an auditory symbol or acoustic signal (e.g. the train whistle, the Intel bongs, the SOS prosign)
  • a tactile symbol (e.g. a braille character, a TSBVI Standard Tactile Symbol)
  • a symbolic action or event (e.g. the lighting of a candle, the sun setting)
  • an iconic photograph or image (e.g. Migrant Mother, Guerrillero Heroico)
  • a symbolic work or performance (e.g. the Star Spangled Banner, Romeo and Juliet)
  • a color or pattern (e.g. Navy blue, the Royal Stewart tartan)
  • a posted sign or signal (e.g. an exit sign, a red light)
  • an abbreviation or acronym (e.g. 'lbs.', 'USA')
  • an iconic person or group (e.g. the Pope, the Freedom Riders)
  • a name or nickname (e.g. 'Betty Crocker', 'Joe the Plumber')
  • a word or phrase (e.g. 'email', 'Win one for the Gipper!')
  • a mascot or mythical/imaginary character (e.g. Ronald McDonald, Aphrodite, Yogi Bear)
  • a token or marker (e.g. a dollar bill, a playing piece in Monopoly, a dial position on a clock)

The following table summarizes the results of voting in each year for which we have selected a Symbol of the Year and other Notable Symbols.

Symbol of the Year
Other Notable Symbols
No. of Nominated

2018 #MeToo

(Announcement coming soon)

2017 #MeToo

the kneeling player
the pussyhat
"fake news"
Bitcoin and the Bitcoin logo
images of the 2017 total solar eclipse
the Robert Edward Lee statue in Charlottesville
the march
the "Unite the Right" tiki torch parade
acrostic resignation letters
   More details

2016 the MAGA hat

ambulance photo of Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo
taking a knee during the U.S. National Anthem
a wall
gender neutral bathroom signs
variations on "Make America Great Again"
the safety pin
the Dakota Access Pipeline
Khizr Khan holding up the U.S. Constitution
a bottle of water from Flint, Michigan
PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter
the 2016 U.S. Electoral College map
the Poké Ball
"This Is Fine" dog
Hillary Clinton's 2016 Primary campaign logo
Hamilton musical and logo
the pantsuit
the White Helmets
the glass ceiling
   More details

2015 #BlackLivesMatter

the "Peace for Paris" symbol
"Je suis Charlie"
the death of Alan Kurdi
the removal of the Confederate flag
the flag of ISIS (the "Islamic State")
boats full of Syrian refugees
the immigration sign
the swipe
   More details

2014 the hands up gesture

the umbrella
the Heartbleed bug logo
the Biohazard sign
the flag of ISIS (the "Islamic State")
the electron micrograph of the Ebola virus
the hashtag character ("#")
the marijuana leaf
   More details

2013 the equal sign ("=")

the National Security Agency logo
the cloud
   More details

2012 the percent sign ("%") the Piedra del Sol, as a stand-in for the Mayan calendar
CERN - the European Organization for Nuclear Research
the gun
the euro sign
   More details

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