The Meaning Behind the Power Button Symbol Is Something We Should Have Known Sooner

Hunker may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story. Learn more about our affiliate and product review process here.

Throughout our daily lives, we encounter symbols that we just understand even if we've never learned why they are used. One of these symbols is the ubiquitous power button, typically represented by a broken circle with a vertical line through the top. We instinctively know it turns a device on or off but may not understand why that particular symbol is used. It turns out the answer is right before our eyes.


The symbol itself is relatively modern. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) created it in 1973 as an alternative to "on" and "off" buttons using the words. This way, the symbol could be understood across all languages, as electronics and automobile imports were becoming more commonplace.

Video of the Day

The half-circle represents a zero, referencing the binary "on/off" states. The line intersecting the circle represents "1" or "on." So, you would flip the switch to either "1" or "0" to denote an "on" or "off" state. The symbol's simplicity meant that everyday people wouldn't even need to be aware of binary codes to understand how they worked.


The origins of the power switch were recently unveiled on Twitter by comedian Bec Hill, who said their mind was blown by the revelation and asked other users to respond with more examples.

And for those who are curious, the IEC has a complete list of graphical symbols for use on equipment. Yes, it includes the dreaded check engine light.

h/t: DesignTAXI



Report an Issue

screenshot of the current page

Screenshot loading...