PICTURE: Andrey Pustovoy (iStockphoto.com)

It’s become instantly recognisable almost anywhere on the globe as a sign of peace. And while there have been many claims about its origins, the most commonly accepted version is that it was created 50 years ago this year as the logo for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (which later became part of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament).

The story goes that it was designed by British professional designer and artist Gerald Holtom - a conscientious objector during World War II - and first appeared in public over the 1958 Easter weekend in a 52 mile anti-nuclear march from London’s Trafalgar Square to Aldermaston, where Britain's nuclear weapons are manufactured.

According to Holtom, the symbol he drew incorporated the semaphore letters N (depicted by a figure with arms held downward and out from the sides) which stood for 'nuclear' and D, (depicted by a figure holding one arm straight up over its head and another pointing directly at the ground, which stood for 'disarmament'. These were placed over the top of each other and surrounded by a circle.

Holtom later described the symbol’s origins in a letter: “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle around it.”

The symbol quickly migrated to America where it was taken up by the civil rights movement. It has since been adopted and adapted across the globe - and condemned by some as, at various times, an ancient pagan symbol, an anti-Christian symbol or pro-Communism symbol - but has never been copyrighted.


• Happy Birthday Peace.com
~ www.happybirthdaypeace.com

• Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
~ www.cnduk.org

The Origin of the Peace Symbol
~ www.nonukeesnorth.net.peacesymbol.shtml

• BBC - World’s best-known protest symbol turns 50
~ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7292252.stm

TIME - A Piece of Our Time
~ www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1725969,00.html

If you have a word you'd like to know the origins of, simply send an email to [email protected].