What do these symbols & annotations in medieval and related texts mean?

What do these symbols & annotations in medieval and related texts mean?

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Looking at some texts and not sure what these symbols mean in these few cases. Wondering if one could just list off real quick what the purpose is of the symbols or patterns (like the spacing patterns), and if they can be removed or changed to something else.

  1. Purpose of spacing and lines here

    Verbum supernum prodiens, Nec Patris linquens dexteram, Ad opus suum exiens, Venit advitae vesperam.
  2. Meaning of",", andin this, and angle brackets here too:

    nas byrnadh næfre." Hleothrode dha hearogeong cyning: "Ne dhis ne dagadh eastan, ne her draca ne fleogedh, ne her dhisse healle hornas ne byrnadh. 5 Ac her forth beradh; fugelas singadh, gylledh græghama, gudhwudu hlynnedh, scyld scefte oncwydh. Nu scynedh thes mona wadhol under wolcnum. Nu arisadh weadæda dhe dhisne folces nidh fremman willadh. 10 Ac onwacnigeadh nu, wigend mine, habbadh eowre linda, hicgeath on ellen, winnadh on orde, wesadh onmode!"

  3. The meaning of the brackets[foo]in here and here:

    … [b]et thuyhte th… [Th]o stod on old…

  4. Meaning of the angle brackets<and>here:

    ni < sterro > nohheinig noh sunna ni s c ,

  5. Meaning of the bars and spacing here (the indent toKyrieand related, and the bars):

    U nsar trohtîn hât farsalt sancte pêtre giuualt, daz he mac ginerian | ze imo dingênten man. Kyrie Eleyson. christe eleyson. |
  6. The bars here (maybe it means half-lines, not sure):

    De los sos ojos | tan fuerte mientre lorando

For (1), I'm wondering if the spacing needs to be like that (in addition to if it has a purpose). If the spacing doesn't need to be exactly like that, wondering if I could change it to be however I want (such as just flat left side, no odd/even indentation).

For the square brackets like[foo], wondering if they are inserting text into the document (the one who uploaded this text), or if that's something else.

Have no idea what the other types of brackets like<and"are for.

This question illustrates a perennial problem with manuscript transcription: there is no single book of standards that is universally applied! To quote from David L. Vander Meulen and G. Thomas Tanselle:

There has never been a single standard convention for the transcription of manuscript texts, and it is not likely that there will ever be one, given the great variety of textual complications that manuscripts - from all times and places - can present.

In general, particular institutions have their own standards for transcription. We just have to get used to them. For anyone who is fairly new to the subject, I would usually recommend reading every transcription manual they can get their hands on. These will often contain include rules and guidance that are very different from the standards we were taught, and give some insight into the variety that we encounter out in the 'real world'!

  1. This text is from a hymn, Verbum Supernum Prodiens by Thomas Aquinas

The indentation that you noted:

Verbum supernum prodiens, Nec Patris linquens dexteram, Ad opus suum exiens, Venit advitae vesperam.

indicates that, for the purpose of the sequence, the 2nd and 4th lines are continuations of the 1st & 3rd respectively. Thus, lines 1 & 2 form a 'couplet', lines 3 & 4 form a 'couplet', etc.

This format is still occasionally used in modern English translations, thus for the verse above it would be:

The Word of God proceeding forth, Yet leaving not the Father's side, And going to His work on earth, Had reached at length life's eventide.

  1. The double angle brackets,"and", simply indicate speech.

The single brackets onindicate that the first part of the word was missing, and that 'hornas' is the postulated reconstruction.

In the case of the Finnsburg Fragment, this is especially problematic since the original manuscript has since been lost, and all we have today is a transcription made in 1705. For more on this, you might find Finnsburh: Fragments of Fact, Fiction, and History by Kayse Schmucker of interest.

For a fully diacritically-marked text and translation, see the Finnsburh Fragment on Beowulf on Steorarume.

  1. Square brackets serve a number of functions when transcribing manuscripts. Here, they seem to be used refer to letters or words that have been inserted into the transcription. This can be for a variety of reasons, for example because a well-known abbreviation in the original has been expanded, or because it appears the original scribe missed out a letter.

For the Owl and Nightingale, if we look at the original manuscript text the reasons for the use of square brackets in this case become clear:

Ich was in one sumere dale, in one suthe diyhele hale, iherde ich holde grete tale an hule and one niyhtingale. That plait was stif & starc & strong, sum wile softe & lud among; an aither ayhen other sval, & let that [vue]le mod ut al. & either seide of otheres custe that alre-worste that hi wuste: & hure & hure of othere[s] songe

The first expands the abbreviation in the eighth line, and the second supplies the letter 's' that seems to have been omitted by the original scribe.

  1. This is from the Wessobrunn Prayer

  • Image source Wikimedia

As noted in the Wikipedia article, it appears from the context that the word 'sterro' ('star') was omitted by the scribe. The angle brackets are used here to indicate that the transcriber has corrected the (presumed) error by the scribe.

  1. The indentation in the Kyrie eleison indicates what we might term the 'chorus', which in modern liturgy might be in the form of a 'call and response'


Priest: Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) All: Christe eleison (Christ, have mercy)

The vertical bars in the transcription are used, correctly, to indicate the beginnings of the lines in the original manuscript (which can be seen above the transcription for that example). However, they seem to stray from the standard here in that they are not using a double vertical line to indicate the fifth line.

  1. This looks to be a really good example of where the transcribers have completely discarded the Leiden Conventions on transcription. The transcription is from the Cantar de Mio Cid.

The vertical bars do not indicate the start of a new line in the original manuscript, as we can see when we examine the original manuscript:

  • Image source Wikimedia

Comparing with the given transcription:

De los sos ojos | tan fuerte mientre lorando tornava la cabeça | y estava los catando. Vio puertas abiertas | e uços sin cañados, alcandaras vazias | sin pielles e sin mantos e sin falcones e sin adtores mudados. Sospiro mio Çid | ca mucho avie grandes cuidados. Ffablo mio Çid | bien e tan mesurado: "¡Grado a ti, señor, | padre que estas en alto! ¡Esto me an buelto | mios enemigos malos!"

It appears that your surmise here is correct, and the vertical bars are being used in this case to indicate half-lines in the poem.

Many publications will include a brief explanation of the conventions adopted in transcribing manuscripts or papyri. Most will conform - to a greater or lesser degree - with the Leiden System, established in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, many transcriptions available online don't include any key to the symbols and conventions being used. In those cases you just have to use your best judgement. However, it will get easier as you gain more experience.

As regards changing the symbols and conventions being used, I would suggest:

  • If they already comply reasonably well with the Leiden System leave them as they are.
  • If they are significantly different from the Leiden System, consider modifying them so that they do comply with the Leiden System. After all, the goal is for others to read and understand your transcriptions, so conforming to a 'standard' system is highly desirable.

Most of the symbols you will encounter in that way are based on editing conventions more or less agreed upon through tradition in usage. Most of these will either follow the Leiden convention for symbols or have to be explained somewhere in the footnotes or glossaries of the editions you'll read. They are used almost universally for the transcription, description, critical editions or quotations of ancient, medieval or even modern texts, inscriptions and so on.

As @sempaiscuba covers the examples, here are some of the most important sigla for this system:

[ ] Square brackets indicate that the bracketed section on the original inscription is damaged and no longer legible, or at least very difficult to read, and has been supplemented by the editor for the printed publication. The restored characters are reproductions of the unreadable original that have been classified as probable to a degree of probability bordering on certainty. [… ] Dots on the line indicate the determinable number of non-reconstructible letters (in this case three). [- -] horizontal lines indicate an indeterminable number of non-reconstructible letters. ( ) Round brackets indicate that the bracketed part of a word was omitted in the original, i.e. that the term was abbreviated. The content enclosed in such brackets completes the abbreviation used. Example: P(ontifex) M(aximus) means that instead of the written Pontifex Maximus only PM can be found in the original inscription. Example for the use in a translation: Smikylion (son) of Eucalides. (In ancient inscriptions, the name of a person is often followed by the name of his father in the genitive and without a more precise explanation of the relationship, so this must be supplemented in the translation. < > angled brackets indicate that the editor has corrected an error in the original inscription (for example, inadvertently omitted letters, spelling mistakes, or an erroneous number). Sometimes the erroneous part of the text is simply replaced by the correction (i.e. "Csar", although the original erroneously says "Ceasar") - then a reference to the original spelling must be made in the commentary on the edition. Sometimes, however, both the wrong and the corrected spelling are indicated within the angle brackets, e.g. according to the format "Csar".[12] { } Curly brackets surround text that the editor deletes as superfluous (for example, words or parts of words that are accidentally written twice). ạḅc̣ A dot below the letter indicates that the original letter is only partially preserved and that it is not clear from the still visible lines (even if it can be reconstructed with great certainty due to the preceding and/or following letters)… dots on the line indicate the number of assumed non-reconstructible letters (Greek and papyrological). +++ plus signs on the line indicate the number of assumed non-reconstructible letters (Roman) [[abc]] In the scientific nomenclature, the double clasping of a text section is referred to as shaving, which means that the clasped section was intentionally removed from an inscription in ancient times. The reasons for this are mostly politically motivated: for example, the Roman emperor Caracalla had the name of his brother and co-regent Geta erased from inscriptions after he had murdered him, which both named as equal rulers. This measure is called Damnatio memoriae. If, despite shaving, parts of a letter are still recognizable, a dot is placed under them: [[ạḅc̣]] v vv vacat for "empty" indicates an unmarked position in the text witness. The size of the blank field can be indicated by the number of letters that could have been left there according to the font size. If the editor suspects an unmarked place, which however cannot be proved or cannot be proved with certainty due to the state of preservation of the original, this can be indicated by [vacat] or ṿ (i.e. by square brackets or a dot below the letter). | Vertical lines mark the beginning of a line if the text is not printed with the original line breaks. || Vertical double strokes mark the beginning of every fifth line for the sake of clarity… Illegible letters, not restored by the editor (extent known or approximately known, one dot per letter). Above example: three illegible letters. Specific numbers between two dashes used for extended areas, instead of individual dots per letter. In the latter case, approximation, if any, may be expressed with plus-minus sign replacing the first dash. [… ] Letters missing, not restored by the editor (extent known or approximately known, one dot per letter). Above example: three letters missing. Specific numbers between two dashes used for extended areas, instead of individual dots per letter. In the latter case, approximation, if any, may be expressed with plus-minus sign replacing the first dash. [ or [ ] or ] Letters missing, not restored by the editor, extent unknown. [abc] Letters missing, restored by the editor. ⟨ ⟩ or *** Letters erroneously omitted by the text, not restored by the editor. ⟨abc⟩ Letters erroneously omitted by the text, restored by the editor. a(bc) Abbreviation in the text, expanded by the editor. Doubtful expansion should be expressed with a question mark before the closing parenthesis: a(bc?). {abc} Letters considered erroneous and superfluous by the editor. If illegible, an individual letter is expressed by a single dot each. Doubtful letters are marked by a subscript dot. ⟦abc⟧ Rasura: a deletion which can be restored. In this example, the letters abc were deleted, but are still legible or can be restored from context. Deletions may be specified in the apparatus as well. abc/ Interlinear addition of letters in the text itself. In this example, the letters abc were added between lines. These sigla are used when interlinear text is otherwise difficult to represent as such typographically.

If you’ve ever seen these keys on your computer: < >, [ ], or < >, well then you know where all of the types of brackets are, good job!

The word bracket is related to the French braguette from the name for codpiece armor, which is literally the piece around the … uh, man cod that bears resemblance to the architectural features of the bracket, among other things. According to Etymonline, “The typographical bracket (‘marks used to enclose a note, reference, explanation, etc.,’ formerly called crotchets ) is first recorded 1750, so called for its resemblance to double supports in carpentry (a sense attested from 1610s).” Around 1880, brackets also came to mean “a group bracketed together as of equal standing in some graded system.” So, this (bracketing with others) is probably where sports brackets came from then. Aha!

What are square brackets [ ]?

Square brackets ([ ]) are used inside of parentheses to denote something subordinate to the subordinate clause. Here’s an example from the 13th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style: “During a prolonged visit to Australia, Gleuk and an assistant (James Green, who was later to make his own study of a flightless bird [the kiwi] in New Zealand) spent several difficult months observing the survival behavior of cassowaries and emus.”

What are curly brackets ?

These < >have a variety of names they are called braces, curly brackets, or squiggly brackets. Usually these types of brackets are used for lists, but online, they also signify hugging in electronic communication.

What are angle brackets < > or ? ??

The last confusing symbol, ? ?, is called an angle bracket or the chevron. The word originally meant rafter in Old French and likely came from the Latin term caper, meaning “goat.” The symbol does somewhat resemble the hind legs of those animals, right? Today, it is most often used in complex math problems. Parentheses, brackets, and chevrons are also used in computer science and programming, too.


To this day, the word “asterisk” carries with it a few additional meanings derived from its history as a pointer to important additional content. It’s used in advertising, to indicate the presence of small print which you should probably read – but perhaps they hope you don’t. In American journalism, often dominated by sport and politics, the word “asterisk” has come to mean “no, you’d better read more about this before you decide what to think”. It was famously applied to George W Bush after his disputed “victory”* in the 2000 US presidential election, when the cartoonist Doonesbury started portraying Bush as a literal asterisk.

In baseball, there's always talk of asterisks set against players’ recorded achievements. According to the New York Times, the US Tennis Open this year 񢉤) should be called “The Asterisk Open”, because of the many players who couldn’t attend, and so the winner isn’t the best player. [3]

Another famous bearer of the insinuating asterisk is drug-peddler and bike-pedaller Lance Armstrong.

So the word itself has picked up a bit of a smell.

Asterisks to Indicate Omissions

Many publications and stories include quoted material to add credibility to a piece and heighten interest. But people don't always talk in the Queen's English they often curse and use swear words, providing a challenge to writers when publishers prohibit the use of salty language—as most do. Enter the asterisk, which is often used to indicate letters that have been omitted from cuss words and bad language, such as s**t, where the mark replaces two letters in a term referring to excrement.

MediaMonkey in "Nick Knowles's Twitter SOS," a short piece published in The Guardian gives this example:

The dash was used to indicate the omission of letters from words as late as the early-1950s, said Eric Partridge in "You Have a Point There: A Guide to Punctuation and Its Allies." But by the middle part of the 20th century, asterisks generally displaced the dash in nearly all such uses.

XOXO Meaning: What Does XOXO Mean and Where Did It Originate?

XOXO. You've seen this phrase used countless times to represent "hugs and kisses," or more literally, "kiss, hug, kiss, hug." But what does XOXO mean and why do Xs and Os translate to gestures of love and affection? And, if you're considering incorporating the sweet symbols of XOXO into your wedding, what are some creative ways to do that?

What Does XOXO Mean?

The short answer to "Why does XO stand for hugs and kisses?" is that we don't know. According to Marcel Denasi, professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto and author of The History of the Kiss: The Birth of Popular Culture, no one has kept a written record of why the symbols of XOXO were used they simply began using them in letter writing.

What XOXO Really Means, Historically Speaking

Again, there's no clear cut answer or easily followed history for this. It's believed that the X comes from back in the Middle Ages when people used to sign letters that way. X was used in place of a signature because many people couldn't read or write. It was also a Christian symbol, meant to represent the cross, and used as a substitute for the word "Christ," by way of the Greek letter "Chi" which looks like an X. The theory is that, because there is a long history of Christians kissing statues of Christ or kissing the Bible, the X may have originally meant "seal it with a kiss." Another theory is that the X looks like two people kissing, and that's how it began to mean "kiss." Regardless, as of the mid-1800s, the meaning of X was solidified as "kiss."

Meanwhile, the O is believed to have come from Jewish immigrants who, also unable to read or write, arrived in North America and refused to sign documents with the Christian-associated X. Instead, they signed with an O. The O then made the jump to meaning "hug" simply as an opposite of X, which had already come to mean "kiss." The O also looks like two people hugging from above, so if we're going on the theory of appearances, that works just fine. Regardless of the history of what XOXO really means, we're all familiar with the colloquial meaning now!

X Means Kisses

Denasi, who studied the history of kissing for his book, agrees that the X in XOXO has been used in correspondence since medieval times. But what does X mean really? Though initially the X was meant to symbolize "Christ," somewhere along the way, it evolved into a way of signing with a kiss.

Perhaps, Denasi says, it reflected a cultural shift to placing greater importance on love and affection. "Women at that time wanted to break away from the idea of being given away in marriage," Denasi says. "Women wanted to have a say in their own destiny and to change things." So as falling in love before getting married became more widespread, so did expressing that love in a letter.

As people followed tradition and signed and sealed their letters with an X, it eventually came to mean they were sealing it with a kiss, perhaps even physically kissing the scroll or paper once sealed, Denasi believes.

Today, people are more likely to think of the X as a symbol of the way a person's mouth puckers when they kiss or what two people kissing look like from above.

O Means Hugs

So, since both the X and the O were easy to write, even for people who hadn't learned to read, and Denasi notes that tic-tac-toe, a game that uses X and O symbols, developed in the medieval period as well, these two symbols have long been connected.

Still, there isn't much evidence that the O was used to symbolize the hug in writing before 1960, according to the Washington Post.

Regardless of how it began, the O can be seen as a visual symbol of a hug. "If you step inside a circle, it's a form of enveloping," Denasi says. "You're saying as you are hugging someone, 'I'm enveloping the aura and physical person you.' And you are actually making a circle with your arms."

XOXO Variations (or Ways We Use XOXO)

Today, XOXO is used so frequently that the XOXO meaning has become more nuanced. We use plenty of variations of and substitutes for XOXO—whether it's in a written letter, email, text or chat.

  • XOXO: When we're using double Xs and Os, it's like we're covering the other person in hugs and kisses. Usually XOXO is reserved for a romantic partner, but occasionally, one might find it appropriate to use XOXO with a friend or family member in a text or note.
  • XO: What does a simple XO stand for? Well, it's a quicker way of expressing one kiss and one hug, so you could be addressing a significant other, beloved friend or family member.
  • X: Just a kiss, a single X could be considered romantic, but it could also be used to sign a letter to anyone you'd normally kiss on the cheek when greeting.
  • SWAK: During World War I, soldiers and sailors used to sign love letters with this acronym, meaning "sealed with a kiss."
  • Kiss and Hug Emojis: Today, we have kiss and heart emojis to express affection to our loved ones via text and chat.

Even with all these different ways of sending kisses and hugs, XOXO endures. "When certain traditions get established and have meaning for us, they're not going to go away," Denasi says. "Symbols like XOXO remain. They get passed on from generation to generation. If it takes little effort to repurpose it, it will continue to be used. It's my opinion that symbols like XOXO will never disappear as long as we have that emotion."

XOXO Wedding Ideas

What is XOXO to us now? It's an expression of love. With its sentiment of physical affection and roots in marital love, XOXO makes a sweet motif to incorporate into a wedding.

"XOXO is a universally understood message of hugs and kisses! I can't think of a more appropriate place than a wedding, where the room is filled with unconditional love and support, to share the XOXOs," says Jenny Orsini, owner and creative director of Jenny Orsini Events. And there are many ways of doing so.

XOXO Wedding Invitations

Send a love letter to your guests by engraving or stamping invitations with an XOXO graphic design.

"If you're going to incorporate an XOXO graphic into your wedding, the key is to make sure it's legible, clear, distinct and gets your point across," Orsini says. "If you can hire a professional graphic designer, I definitely recommend going that route. A professional designer can make sure the XOXO logo is perfect for your style and can help you create a cohesive look throughout the event."

By sending Xs and Os in your invite, you're setting the tone for a warm, welcoming event full of love. Once you have an XOXO symbol, you can carry it into other pieces of wedding stationery, such as the menu, table cards and escort cards.

XOXO Cocktail Hour

Xs and Os work great at the cocktail hour, which can have an intimate and social feel, says Sarah Chancey, founder and creative lead of wedding planning and design company Chancey Charm. "By using Xs and Os, you're reminding your guests to relax, have fun and maybe even make a little connection of their own," she says.

Serve a signature cocktail with X- and O-shaped ice cubes, decorated with XOXO-adorned swizzle sticks, Chancey suggests. Cocktail napkins can also be emblazoned with XOXO. Set up a table where guests can find their table numbers on cards shaped like an X or O.

XOXO Wedding Cake

A wedding cake is the piece de resistance of the wedding reception—and an ideal place to incorporate XOXO. For an elegant look, crown your dessert with a shiny, metallic XOXO cake topper. If you want a more modern spin, have your designer create an XOXO pattern in fondant icing and cover the cake with it, Orsini says.

If you'd rather have a dessert bar instead of a classic wedding cake, Chancey suggests having X- and O-adorned cupcakes, which aren't just a sweet treat they add a décor element.

XOXO Wedding Décor

XOXO can be used throughout the reception. Look for metal tabletop Xs and Os to accent your sweetheart table or the bar. Just know that you don't need an X and an O everywhere for guests to notice them.

"If you're going to incorporate XOXO in your wedding, be sure not to overwhelm your guests," Orsini says. "Too much of a good thing is never the way to go." Be sparing and deliberate about your XOXO choices.

XOXO Photos

X and O balloons and handheld XOXO props make for cute photo ops for your bridal party or for guests.

"Think about setting up a photo booth with handheld XOXO signs," Orsini suggests. "Just make sure you're consistent with the image. Creating that cohesive feeling gives your wedding its own unique brand, and guests really do notice that attention to detail."

Texting Abbreviation List

The following is a list of commonly used text message abbreviation list. Go through the list to find out what do the acronyms for certain words mean. You can read more on text message abbreviations.

Text Abbreviation Meaning
?4U Question for you
2bctnd to be continued
2g4u too good for you
2l8 Too late
2MORO Tomorrow
2NITE Tonight
2WIMC too whom it may concern
4e Forever
4yeo for your eyes only
AAM as a matter of fact
AB! Ah Bless!
Adctd2uv addicted to love
AFAIK as far as I know
AFK away from keyboard
AML all my love
AMOF As a matter of fact
ASAP as soon as possible
ASFAIC As far as I am concerned
ASL age, sex, location
ATW at the weekend
AYDY Are you done yet
AYS Are you serious
B4N Bye for now
BCNU Be Seeing You
BFF Best Friends Forever
BRB Be right back
BTW By The Way
C&G Chuckle and grin
Cm call me
COS Because
CU see you
CUL see you later
DQMOT Don’t quote me on this
DUR? don’t you remember?
EOD end of discussion
EOL end of lecture
F2F face to face
F2T free to talk
FC fingers crossed
FYEO for your eyes only
FYI for your information
G9 genius
GF Girlfriend
BF Boyfriend
GG good game
GMTA great minds think alike
GR8 Great
GTG Got to go
GTSY great to see you
H&K hugs and kisses
H8 hate
HAGN have a good night
HAND have a nice day
IC I see
IDK I don’t know
ILY I love you
IMO in my opinion
J4F just for fun
J4K just for kisses
JK Just Kidding
KC keep cool
KIT keep in touch
L8R Later
LOL Laugh Out Loud
LTG Like to go
LTK like to come
LYLAS Love you like a sister
A3 Anytime anywhere anyplace
M8 mate
MGB may God bless
MYOB mind your own business
NMH Not much here
NO1 no one
NP No Problem or Nosy Parents
NSA No strings attached
NVM Never mind
O4U only for you
OIC Oh I see
OMG Oh my God
OXOX Hugs and kisses
PCM please call me
PLMK Please let me know
POV Point of view
PPL people
RBTL Read between the lines
RMB ring my bell
ROFL Rolling on floor laughing
SRY sorry
STATS your sex and age
STBY Sucks to be you
T+ think positive
T2ul talk to you later
TMB Text me back
TMI Too much information
TTYL Talk to you later
TYVM Thank you very much
U4E yours forever
UFB Unfreakingly believable
URH You are hot
URTO you are the one
W4U waiting for you
WAN2 want to
WEG Wicked Evil Grin
WRT with respect to
WTG way to go
WUF where are you from
WWYC Write when you can
WYWH Wish you were here
Y2K You are too kind
YBS you will be sorry
YT You there
ZZZZ Sleeping or bored

Would you like to write for us? Well, we're looking for good writers who want to spread the word. Get in touch with us and we'll talk.

You can use the above texting symbols for iPhone as well. Hope, the above texting symbols list helps you to understand and send some cool abbreviations while texting and save your time when messaging.

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What is a symbol?

A symbol is an object that represents something else, and in fact, are a part of your daily life, not just a piece of literature. You may not realize it, but you encounter millions of symbols in your everyday life, such as:

  • Traffic lights: Red light means stop, green means go, and yellow means caution
  • The arrow means "this way"
  • A cross represents religion, or more specifically, Christianity
  • Light bulb means "new idea"
  • Numerals 1 and 0, put together, mean ten
  • A heart means love
  • Logos represent brands, like the Nike swoosh or Mac's Apple
  • Even our names are symbols that represent us as individual humans

Symbols can hold unexpected meaning, but upon further investigation, can make a lot of sense. For example, if you read a scene that involves a skunk lurking in the background, you might wonder what that animal could signify. But, if there's something that foul in the works of your story, like a breakup or a bit of bad luck, the skunk begins to bring up imagery of something that is less than pleasant to experience. Thus, the symbolism.

To better understand symbolism, you might ask yourself to consider what a variety of everyday objects might stand for if they were used in a piece of literation. For example, think about emotions or thoughts that come to mind when you see the following:

  • Flowers (represent nature, birth, growth, femininity, beauty)
  • Lightening bolt (represents speed, strength, power, electricity)
  • Spider web (represents entanglement, entrapment, mystery)

Creating Cross-Curricular Text Sets for the Middle Grades

By Amanda Wall

A text set is a group of texts that share a common theme. Text sets are common in elementary school classrooms, and they can also be a great resource in middle school classrooms—across the content areas. Text sets allow students to explore different aspects of a topic through texts that differ in ways such as genre, format, and complexity.

Middle grades preservice teachers in a Literature and Writing course recently designed text sets for their future classrooms. These preservice teachers plan to teach a variety of content areas besides Language Arts. We’re going to share our process as well as some examples in hopes of inspiring you to put together your own text set.

Organizing a Text Set

The first step was to understand the goal behind a text set—to assemble a set of texts to explore a common theme. Two ways to organize text sets are by general themes or by an anchor text, a text that frames the text set. We organized text sets around anchor texts. By the time the preservice teachers were ready to design their text sets, we had read some selections and highlights from young adolescent literary works and had formed two book groups, each based on a different novel.

Designing a Text Set

To design the text set, each person thought about a theme in the anchor text to explore through the text set. Different people were able to design different text sets around a shared anchor text. In this way, each preservice teacher selected an anchor text and a topic within that text to explore further through the text set.

Next, each preservice teacher began to put a text set together. These requirements framed the assignment:

  • The text set needed to include 6-8 texts, including the anchor text.
  • The text set had to include both narrative and informational genres.
  • The text set had to include both print and digital texts.
  • The text set needed to include texts of varying complexity.

The completed text set was presented in a box, basket, or other container that a teacher may have in a classroom. For each text, they wrote an original synopsis of each text that connected it to the anchor text and was written to engage students. Each preservice teacher also designed a sample assignment built around the text set. Their sample assignments were designed to (1) require students to read multiple texts in the text set (2) offer students choice and (3) promote higher-order thinking about the texts and the anchor text.

Resources for Texts

To help preservice teachers find appropriate texts, these links were shared at the beginning of the assignment:

There are other ways that you can locate texts for text sets. Your local library (whether a school library or a public library) is a great resource. Wesbites such as Goodreads or Amazon can yield suggestions, as can other teachers.

Even though each preservice teacher turned in a text set with all texts present, this assignment did not require them to purchase all the texts. They were encouraged to use both the university library and the public library to find texts.

Three Example Text Sets

Everyone designed a text set that could be successful in a middle grades classroom. Here, we want to highlight three examples (the student names are pseudonyms). Two examples show how the same anchor text can inspire different text sets in different content areas. The third example is a text set designed for math—yes, math! This example demonstrates how text sets are not just for Language Arts.

Same Book, Different Text Sets

Some preservice teachers chose R.J. Palacio’s Wonder as their anchor texts. This fantastic novel follows Auggie Pullman, who was born with significant facial deformities, through fifth grade, his first year in school after many years of homeschooling. Julia, who plans to teach science and math, focused on the main character’s birth defects and built a text set around genetics and birth disorders. Amy, who plans to teach Language Arts, focused on Auggie’s social experience and crafted a text set around understanding and responding to differences.

As a future teacher of science, Julia focused on the genetics behind Auggie’s appearance and other birth defects that people experience. Some of her texts were:

Both these narratives follow other young people who face difficulties as a result of birth defects. Julia also sourced two science books that she could use in excerpts and with annotations.

Amy focused on Auggie’s social experience of being bullied at his new school. She generalized from Auggie’s specific experience to the experiences other young people have with bullies. Some of her texts included:

  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Biggest Nose, a picture book by Mary Caple.

In addition, Amy located a short informational text about genes, Gene Machines. Working from a desire to equip students to respond to bullying, she also found How to Handle Bullies, Teasers and Other Meanies. She imagined her students reading Wonder and the other texts and then enacting a service learning project around bullying. These two different examples reflect how one text can inspire a number of themes and topics of further study.

Text Sets in Math

Other preservice teachers designed text sets for their future math classrooms. Margaret, for example, started with James Patterson’s Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life. She empathized with the struggles the main character, Rafe, faced to comprehend geometry, and that was the inspiration for the text set. Rather than selecting math textbooks, Margaret chose to focus on texts middle school students would find more approachable. She selected a few digital texts and these books:

The last book introduced Margaret to math poetry, a genre new to her. Margaret imagined the books in this text set working to give students more points of access to math through interesting stories, poems, and pictures.

These examples show how teachers of different content areas can develop different text sets from the same book, and how teachers from every content area can incorporate text sets into their curricula.

Why did we design text sets?

We know it is important for students to read all across the content areas. With the Common Core State Standards, for example, we see how important reading a variety of texts is for students at all grade levels. These text sets allowed preservice teachers to collect a range of texts to appeal to readers with a range of interests and ability levels. Although these text sets were designed for middle school classrooms, many included picture books. Some of these picture books were chosen because of their lesser text complexity and some for the visual addition of pictures and other graphics. Because students read more and more online, each preservice teacher selected appropriate digital texts. One of our course texts was Reading and Writing Genre with Purpose in K-8 Classrooms, which emphasizes the importance of students reading texts in a range of genres. This text inspired us to include both narrative and informational texts.

The goals of this assignment were to help preservice teachers (1) understand what a text set is and (2) experience putting a text set together. The important decisions included:

  • Choosing an anchor text
  • Deciding on a theme in the anchor text to explore through the text set
  • Selecting other appropriate texts.

In some instances, curriculum standards can guide the selection of texts. Some concerns about using a text set may arise. The first relates to time. You can design a text set as a way to differentiate content for students: perhaps all students read a common anchor text, but then various students read different complementary texts. Texts in a text set may also be optional reading for students intrigued by the anchor text. A text set can be used to support student projects and research. Also, you can provide annotations or other text supports to address time concerns. These annotations and text supports also can help a broader range of readers access more complex texts.

This We Believe, the guiding document of the Association of Middle Level Education (www.amle.org), encourages a middle school curriculum that is challenging, exploratory, integrative, and relevant for young adolescents. More specific to literacy, the Common Core State Standards call on students to read a range of texts of varying genres and increasing complexity across the content areas. These standards can seem daunting to preservice teachers. A text set assignment, like the one described above, is one way for teacher educators to prepare preservice teachers to plan curriculum and instruction that meets the CCSS and AMLE Standards through specific focus on one anchor text and supporting texts. In framing this assignment, these sources provided examples and guidance:

Amanda Wall is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Georgia Southern University, where she teaches courses in the middle grades program. She taught Language Arts and Latin in grades 5-12 for many years. Her articles for MiddleWeb can be found here.


The Mayan feathered serpent deity Kukulkan was known to other Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztecs and Olmecs who worshipped the god under different names. The myth surrounding this deity mention the god as a creator of the cosmos in the Popul Vuh, the Kiche Maya sacred book. The serpent god is also called the Vision Serpent. Feathers represent the god’s ability to soar in the heavens while as a serpent the god can also travel the earth. Kukulkan cult temples during the Post-Classical era can be found in Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Mayapan. The serpent cult emphasized peaceful trade and good communication among the cultures. Since a snake can shed its skin, it symbolizes renewal and rebirth.


In addition to the runes, the pre-Christian mythology and religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples were full of intriguing and powerful symbols. Here are some of them:

Thor’s Hammer, a symbol of protection, strength, consecration, and the integrity of custom and tradition.

The Swastika or sunwheel, a symbol of luck, holiness, power, prosperity, and the sky. This article covers both its original usage and meaning and its later, tragic appropriation by the Nazis.

The Valknut, a symbol associated with death, the transition from life to death, and Odin.

The Helm of Awe, a symbol of protection and might, but in a darker and more individualistic sense than Thor’s Hammer.

The Svefnthorn, a symbol that could put someone into a long, deep sleep.

The Vegvisir, a symbol from an early modern Icelandic magical manuscript (and therefore not necessarily a truly “Norse” symbol), which was supposed to help with finding one’s way when lost.

Just about any other so-called “Norse symbol” out there doesn’t date from the Viking Age or earlier, and is therefore not authentically Norse. How can you tell the difference between truly Norse symbols and the countless “Norse-flavored” symbols? Simple: is there any concrete evidence that the symbol in question dates from the Viking Age or earlier? If not, one can reasonably assume that it’s a pseudo-Norse symbol that somebody came up with in the Middle Ages or modern times. Those kinds of symbols greatly outnumber genuinely Norse ones. And no, “It looks kinda Norse-y and some New Age website says it’s the ‘Norse symbol for love’” is not evidence.

Looking for more great information on Norse mythology and religion? While this site provides the ultimate online introduction to the topic, my book The Viking Spirit provides the ultimate introduction to Norse mythology and religion period. I’ve also written a popular list of The 10 Best Norse Mythology Books, which you’ll probably find helpful in your pursuit.

Watch the video: How to annotate text while reading