Hidden meanings of 10 professional symbols

Most of us would recognize the red, white & blue striped spinning barber shop pole, but do you know what those three colors represent? And do you know why many pawn shops display three golden balls in their window? Read on and see how much you know about the symbols of common professions and other organizations.

The red, white and blue stripes in the barber shop pole are meant to represent blood, bandages and veins. For thousands of years, barbers didn't just cut hair and shave beards -- they performed surgery, dentistry, and more.
These barber-surgeons, as they were known, practiced everything from tooth-extractions to bloodletting. After sopping up any blood with white cloths, the barbers would wash the cloths and hang them out to dry. This is what the pole's red and white colors signify. It is commonly accepted that the blue color represents veins.

The Marines
One branch of the U.S. Armed Forces uses an eagle, globe and anchor as its symbol: The Marines. As the official United States Marine Corps web site explains: "The eagle with spread wings represents our proud nation. The globe points to worldwide presence. The anchor stands for naval tradition. Together, they represent a dedication to service in the air, on land and at sea."

The universal symbol for pawn shops is three balls suspended from a curved bar. The "three balls" were originally part of the coat of arms of the Medici family, who established the Medici trading and banking empire in Florence, Italy. Legend has it that one of the Medicis (in the employ of Emperor Charles the Great) fought a giant and slew him with three sacks of rocks. The three balls or globes later became part of their family crest, and ultimately, the sign of pawnbroking.

Boy Scouts
The badge for the Scout rank consists of a simple fleur-de-lis, which symbolizes a compass needle. The needle points the Scout in the right direction, which is onward and upward. The Tenderfoot badge takes the fleur-de-lis of the Scout badge and adds two stars and an eagle with an American shield. The stars symbolize truth and knowledge; the eagle and shield symbolize freedom and readiness to defend it.

Live Theater
Comedy and tragedy masks are sometimes referred to as theater masks or drama masks. They have been adopted as the universal symbol for live theater. The origins stem from ancient Greece when actors always wore masks on stage.

There are two symbols most commonly associated with the pharmacy profession. One is the mortar and pestle. Pharmacists would use the mortar and pestle to crush and mix ingredients to cure diseases. The other is the Rx symbol. According to most sources, Rx is an abbreviation of the Latin word for recipe ("recipere").

Medical Profession

The caduceus (left) is an ancient symbol that stands for wisdom, eloquence, and communication. The rod entwined by two snakes and topped with wings -- comes from the magic wand of the Greek god Hermes. According to Dr. Keith T. Blayney, the association between the caduceus of Hermesand medicine seems to have arisen by the seventh century A.D., when Hermes had come to be linked with alchemy. Dr. Blayney also points out that another traditional symbol of medicine is the staff of Asclepius (right). This symbol is a single serpent encircling a staff, classically a rough-hewn knotty tree limb. Asclepius was an ancient Greek physician deified as the god of medicine.

Wall Street
The bull and bear are two oft-used symbols of Wall Street. A "bear market" is known as a period of time in which the overall trend of the stock market is down. A "bull market" is a period in which the prices in the market rise overall. According to The Motley Fool, the term "bear market" may come from "bear skin jobbers," who sold bear skins before they caught the bears. This term eventually was used to describe short-sellers, who make money buying and selling shares that they don't own (they borrow them). Short-sellers profit when the price of their shares goes down. The theory further goes that since bear baiting and bull baiting were common sports, bull became the counterpart of bear. Others will say the term bear comes from the fact that bears swipe their paws down when fighting, whereas bulls swipe their horns up.

The Badge of a firefighter is called a Maltese Cross. The Maltese Cross is a symbol of protection and a badge of honor. The New York City Fire Department explains: The first firefighters were a band of crusaders known as the Knights of St. John. Their heroic efforts were recognized by fellow crusaders with a badge of honor -- a cross similar to the one firefighters wear today. Since the Knights of St. John lived on a little island in the Mediterranean Sea named Malta, the cross came to be known as the Maltese Cross.

Two of the principal symbolic tools always found in a Lodge are the square and compass. They are reminders that Masons should "square their actions by the square of virtue" and to learn to "circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind." When these two Masonic tools are placed together with God as the central focal point., Freemasons believe peace and harmony is the result.
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