I decided to add a psychology symbol page to the psychology website in response to a number of e-mails I’ve received regarding its meaning.
When you study the topic you quickly discover that the universal symbol for psychology is the pitchfork shaped image in the picture above. Now while this is great for short hand purposes i.e., drawing the symbol rather than having to spell out psychology in full; have you ever wondered about where the psych symbol originates from?
The Devil is Not in The Detail
One interesting but totally incorrect suggestion is that the psych symbol is somehow related to the fork carried by the devil. One theory goes that because mental illness was historically seen as the work of the devil, psychology by association was considered diabolical; and in an irreverent display of defiance, psychologists adopted the devil fork shape as their official symbol.
It’s All Greek To Me
The fact is that to discover the origin of the psychology symbol, you simply have to trace its etymology (word origin and sense development).
As can be seen from the image above the symbol for psychology represents the penultimate letter of the Greek alphabet, psi, which is also the first letter of the Greek word psuche, meaning mind or soul, from which the term psyche arose; which in turn gave us the name of the discipline psychology which is most commonly defined as study of the mind.
Perhaps the devil is in the detail after all!
Evidence for the etymological origin of the psych symbol can be traced back as early as 1879. The following definition is taken from the book “New Word Analysis (School Etymology of English Derivative Words)” by William Swinton.