AskDefine | Define pictogram

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A picture that represents a word or an idea


picture that represents a word or an idea

Extensive Definition

A pictogram (also spelled pictogramme) or pictograph is a symbol representing a concept, object, activity, place or event by illustration. Pictography is a form of writing in which ideas are transmitted through drawing. It is a basis of cuneiform and, to some extent, hieroglyphic writing, which uses drawings also as phonetic letters or determinative rhymes.
Early written symbols were based on pictograms (pictures which resemble what they signify) and ideograms (symbols which represent ideas). They were used by the ancient Chinese culture since around 5000 BC and began to develop into logographic writing systems around 2000 BC. Pictograms are still in use as the main medium of written communication in some non-literate cultures in Africa, The Americas, and Oceania. Pictograms are often used as simple symbols by most contemporary cultures.

Modern use

Pictograms were extensively used on a London Suburban map of the London & North Eastern Railway map in 1937, and remain in common use today, serving as signs or instructions. Because of their graphical nature and fairly realistic style, they are widely used to indicate public toilets, or places such as airports and train stations. However, even these symbols are highly culture-specific. For example, in some cultures men commonly wear dress-like clothing, so even restroom signage is not universal.
A standard set of pictograms was defined in the international standard ISO 7001: Public Information Symbols. Another common set of pictograms are the laundry symbols used on clothing tags and chemical hazard labels. Pictography hinders search-engine capability, requiring symbol searching, while text-based writing also facilitates spoken words, even new words by use of pronunciation rules, and text enables sorting information alphabetically.
Pictographic writing as a modernist poetic technique is credited to Ezra Pound though French surrealists accurately credit the Pacific Northwest American Indians of Alaska who introduced writing, via totem poles, to North America (Reed 2003, p. xix).
Pictograms can also be seen in various crop circles.


  • Reed, Ishmael (2003). From Totems to Hip-Hop: A Multicultural Anthology of Poetry Across the Americas, 1900-2002, Ishmael Reed, ed. ISBN 1-56025-458-0.
pictogram in Belarusian: Піктаграфічнае пісьмо
pictogram in Czech: Piktogram
pictogram in Danish: Piktogram
pictogram in German: Piktogramm
pictogram in Estonian: Piktogramm
pictogram in Spanish: Pictograma
pictogram in Esperanto: Piktogramo
pictogram in Persian: تصویرنگار
pictogram in French: Pictogramme
pictogram in Galician: Pictograma
pictogram in Korean: 픽토그램
pictogram in Italian: Pittografia
pictogram in Dutch: Pictogram
pictogram in Japanese: ピクトグラム
pictogram in Norwegian: Piktogram
pictogram in Polish: Piktogram
pictogram in Portuguese: Pictograma
pictogram in Romanian: Pictogramă
pictogram in Russian: Пиктограмма
pictogram in Simple English: Pictogram
pictogram in Slovak: Piktogram
pictogram in Slovenian: Piktogram
pictogram in Finnish: Kuvakirjoitus
pictogram in Swedish: Piktogram
pictogram in Turkish: Piktogram
pictogram in Chinese: 象形文字

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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