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A secular icon is an image or pictograph of a person or thing used for other than religious purpose. (See icon for such use.)
Icons versus symbols
- An icon is a graphic device that represents some object or action, the graphic device being ascribed.
- A symbol has only the meanings ascribed to itself, representing only a concept and not recognizable as a particular object.
Language and cultural neutrality
International standards have been developed to harmonize icons and symbols. The latter can be seen particularly at international airports and on roadside signs, to assist travelers. Icons are also becoming standardised for consumer electronics and for automobile controls.
Political and governmental iconic symbols
Secular icons are seen particularly in editorial cartoons, where a simple image can be used to represent a complex concept or entity. These are often cultural specific, as recognition of some symbols may depend upon a deep understanding of the current local situation and the players involved, while others are so common that they are understood over a wide range of cultures (but not worldwide). Edifices such as the United States Capitol Building or the White House, the Elizabeth Tower, and Saint Basil's Cathedral have become representations respectively of the Governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Russia. Other symbols (such as the bulldog for the United Kingdom, the bald eagle for the United States, the bear for Russia, or the Chinese dragon for China) are used to represent nations, as distinct from (yet inclusive of) governments.
Modern computer systems
Modern personal computers and control systems make extensive use of icons in the form of small images representing such objects as file folders, documents and applications within a graphical user interface.