Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
The word power with the power symbol and a history of the word

The Esoteric Origin of the Symbols That Operate Our Gadgets


Did you know that the Bluetooth symbol refers to an ancient Scandinavian king who was addicted to blueberries? Discover the origin of some of the symbols we employ in our everyday lives.

An infographic created by Sofya Yampolsky and a group of geek magicians shows us the origin of some of the symbols we use in our daily lives and which we can virtually always find in our electric devices. We now share with you some of the magical and historical origins of some of them:

A colorful infographic with the origins of different UI symbols. Definitions to follow.

Power symbol

This is the symbol we always ‘intuitively’ look out for on a cellphone or a computer. It dates back to engineers during the Second World War who used the binary system to turn on and off machines: 1 meant on, 2 meant off. In 1972, the International Electrotechnical Commission combined the symbols to show that the device could be put on ‘standby’, for this reason the power button is usually a one inside a cero.


Ethernet port

This symbol has a fairly recent origin; it was designed by David Hill and engineer from IBM. He wanted to show the different local area connections that were available at any given time. It is not meant to determine a hierarchical order, every ‘box’ is simply meant to represent a computer or a terminal.



In the tenth century, King Harald Blatand of Denmark had a famous partiality for blueberries, which made his teeth permanently blue. This symbol is comprised of two runes that represent Harald’s initials. However, the coincidences do not end at that: the first Bluetooth receptor had an entry in the shape of teeth, which was also blue. Blatand was essential for the unification of the warrior legions of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, in the same way that Bluetooth seeks to make different operational systems work together.



Some have compared this to the ‘STOP’ symbol split in half (a square with a line crossing it), however, its origin is probably found in musical notes: caesura, which signifies a pause in the execution.



The symbol used to play tapes is significantly older than personal computers; however, the direction of this equilateral triangle seems to indicate the direction of the movement of the tapes. This direction can also be found at the base of two other symbols: two triangles pointing towards the right which denote Fast Forward, and two triangles pointing towards the left which denote the Rewind motion, like when the video cassette players had to be manually rewound to their point of origin.



This symbol is inspired in the Dreizack, Poseidon’s powerful trident, the Greek god of the Seas. Instead of triangles in each of the ends, the symbol for the USB 1.0 has a circle and a square to give the idea that the format can adapts to the different devices that might use them.



The International Electrotechnical Commission also designed a crescent moon to show the device’s ‘sleep’ mode: a state of low energy consumption when the device is not on or off, basically the same as humans who surrender themselves to the arms of Morpheus.



The ‘At’ sign is probably one of the most recognizable and used in electronic interfaces, nonetheless, its origins remain unclear. Some believe that it was used by sixth century monks to describe the Latin word ‘ad’ toward, with the purpose of differentiating it from A.D., Anno Domini, indicating the passing of time after the birth of Christ. In France and Italy the symbol is known as the ‘snail’, in China as the ‘small mouse’, and in Germany as the ´monkey’s tail’. It was first used in operational systems by the programmer Raymond Tomilson in 1971, to separate the user field from that of the terminal.

Related Articles