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We communicate through signs. Words, facial expressions, billboard images, street signs, certain sounds or colours are signs. Clothes, jewels, accessories are signs.

A sign, by definition, is a bifacial entity formed of signified and signifier.

The signified is the represented concept, the signifier is the material medium of representation.

For instance, the road signs “no entry”.

The signified is: “you cannot trespass”; the signifier is a red circle with a horizontal white stripe dividing the red circle in two.

The two combined elements form a sign.

But in this case, according to Pierce’s taxonomy, it is not only a sign, but also a symbol.

Pierce divides signs into icons, symbols and indices.

An icon is a sign that has a resemblance with the represented concept (for instance, the Russian icon of the Virgin Mary with child. This is a stylized image of a woman holding a child in her arms, presumably her son. There is no convention applied. The signifier actually resembles a woman holding an infant in her arms).

A symbol is when the signifier is the result of a convention, but has no resemblance with the concept represented in real life (for instance, the halo placed in paintings over the head of the Virgin Mary or of saints. No saint has actually ever had a golden disc attached to his head during his life on Earth, but as a convention, a golden disc on the back of his neck is depicted to indicate sanctity).

An index is when the sign is natural, when it is not the result of a convention and when it has no resemblance with the concept represented (the most typical example is smoke indicating that there is or could be fire, or bags under the eyes indicating that a person has not had a good night’s rest or is sick.

There is no convention, smoke has no resemblance with fire and bags under the eyes have no resemblance with insomnia).

Clothing can be used as a symbol (for instance, gilt accessories, or a lame bodice, can be symbols of wealth, a black sheath dress of elegance, a pair of extravagant skyscraper sandals of eccentricity and transgression), as an icon (a disguise is an icon of what we would wish to look like... If I dress up as a cat at carnival, my clothes become the icon of a cat) or as an index (I wear stray socks, and unless this is not my style, it indicates that I’m careless).

Things are of course somewhat more complicated than as shown in these groupings.
In a particular context, smoke, usually considered an index, may be considered a symbol (for instance, of destruction, war, or in the case of incense, sanctity).

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