Is symbolization a word?

Symbolization is a verb known to many, however I have a new perspective on it lately from my drive to work.

Symbolization (v): The act of creating a symbol out of a complex representation.

I’ve been seeing a lot of stickers on the backs of cars lately that say “In loving memory of…” and then a person’s name and date. I hate to insult the recently deceased, but what the heck does this mean?

There’s actually a reason that traditionally you only see this phrase on a piece of marble firmly planted in the ground. Because it refers to the object it’s placed on.

In other words, these people are dedicating their cars to dead people.

Okay, perhaps that’s intentional in certain cases, but I really question if that’s the general intent of most people that do this. I would like to believe the intention is that the owner intends a mobile billboard that advertises the death of a loved one. This concerns me in other respects but it at least makes some sense.

What’s happening here? I think this falls into a broader category of ‘Symbolization’ – A common reference in society becomes so common that it’s referred to as a symbol with little or no understanding of it’s real meaning or roots.

There are other examples of this that come to mind: Hacker, Seventh Heaven, the term ‘literally‘ and more – used commonly, and I often wonder if the speaker would use them if they knew what they ‘used’ to mean.

Therein lies the beauty and beast of the english language. Unlike others (French comes to mind) there is no official body that defines what English is. If you can say it to another english speaker and they understand, it’s probably english. American English is a hodgepodge of other languages, made up sounds, and symbolization – definitely a pain for non-native speakers, inconsistant, full of caveats, but as a result it’s very useful and arguably the modern-day lingua franca.

Update 2009-11-17: Yesterday I saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said “In loving memory of…” – A T-shirt! Really? Are you really dedicating a T-shirt? Perhaps they were dedicating their very impressive beer belly.

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