Glyphs to symbolise two phrases, tattoo edition
February 6, 2017 3:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of getting my first tattoos, one on the inside of each wrist or forearm. I'd like help finding two symbols or glyphs to represent two aphorisms which are meaningful to me, "know thyself" and "this too shall pass".

So far I'm leaning towards ∴ to represent "know thyself"/introspection/self-awareness, and Δ to represent "this too shall pass"/change, since Δ represents change in many maths and science disciplines, and ∴ is used in mathematical proofs to represent "therefore" (a tenuous connection to "know thyself", but I like the way ∴ echoes Δ in shape, and it brings me happy memories of my high school calculus classes).

The tattoos I'm planning to get will be small (probably around a centimetre square) and therefore I'd like the glyphs or symbols to be simple and minimal. It's not important to me that other people are able to interpret them (in fact I'd rather not have symbols with obvious meanings). Stylistically think Greek alphabet, alchemical symbols or even runes or punctuation, but not Asian ideograms or Indian oms. Any neat ideas?
posted by snap, crackle and pop to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I like your dual triangle pairing. Alternately, know thyself could be an eye, which is often overlaid with a pyramid in various iconography anyway, so might look cool separated.
posted by limeonaire at 3:50 AM on February 6, 2017

How about a Sierpinski triangle? Fractals embody introspection - they are, at every level, a reflection of themselves, and the concept of iteration could represent evolution or change.

I don't know tattoos, though - might be hard to get enough detail to make it look good.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:44 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

chiming in to say i also like the double triangles.

is it odd to pair it with a circle? think it has been used as a symbol for knowledge or self. or like it has dozens of meanings, but those too. or a triangle upside down, which is an old school symbol for woman?
posted by speakeasy at 4:49 AM on February 6, 2017

Perhaps a triskelion, for "This too shall pass"? Might be a bit more nuanced than desired, but many styles feature a combination of triangles and circles within the design. Personally, the overall effect strikes me as a representation of 'continuous movement', though YMMV.
posted by Amor Bellator at 7:15 AM on February 6, 2017

I've got a friend who's a sign-language interpreter, and he's got the ASL sign for "translation" tattooed on his arm. So ASL would be another angle, although it would be hard to shrink down to 1 cm square and still be legible.
posted by adamrice at 7:21 AM on February 6, 2017

It's good you're doing things that are simple, but even so, a square cm is probably too small for the tattoo to look good for long. It will blur and spread with time. An inch square you could probably get away with. (And I love your ideas.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

To me, an hourglass with an infinity symbol in the middle makes a good icon for 'this shall pass'

If you have an obvious triskelion, people may ask you about your BDSM interests.
posted by Jacen at 2:33 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe an arrow pointing down (like, down your arm, so it's towards your body when your wrists are held in front of you) on the left wrist and an arrow pointing right (like a timeline moving forward)? Down arrow: know yourself. Right arrow: this too shall pass.
posted by harperpitt at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2017

You may want to reconsider the three dots. It is a pretty common prison tattoo that has different meanings depending on where you are.
posted by chillmost at 4:20 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe ∃ (Existential quantification - a type of quantifier, a logical constant which is interpreted as "there exists", "there is at least one", or "for some") for "know yourself"?

I got nothing for "this too shall pass", except maybe the symbol for a diode since diodes pass current in one direction only.
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:41 PM on February 6, 2017

Jacen, you make an excellent point about the triskelion. Thank you, as that connotation slipped my mind at time of posting. "Nuanced", indeed! Heh.
posted by Amor Bellator at 8:59 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, you guys are fantastic!!

Jacen & chillmost, thanks for the headsup about the dots and triskele — I'll have to make sure that I do some research on whatever I choose to make sure I have "no ragrets"! Similarly, thanks fiercecupcake for the note about size. I might have to rethink the positioning and size (larger and further up the arm, perhaps); are the similar concerns regarding the heaviness of the lines (as in, will thinner lines blur/spread worse than heavier lines)?

I really like the idea of two arrows or two regular triangles, one pointing towards the heart and one towards the world, and I also like the idea of an eye or circle — the circumpunct could work to incorporate the idea of self (it's eye-esque and also the alchemical symbol for gold/the sun).

Thanks everyone! I'll mark a few best answers :)
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 3:31 PM on February 7, 2017

For "know thyself", the wikipedia article has a cool mosaic:

For "this too shall pass", a skull is a memento mori.
posted by cyclicker at 10:39 PM on February 7, 2017

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