Symbolic and Important

By Maeve Maddox

A reader brought the following quotation from a statement by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to my attention:

Among the five stores was the Pico Rivera, California Walmart Supercenter, which has been [a] hotbed for worker action. The store is also of symbolic important to the low-wage worker movement…

I assumed that the adjective important must have been a simple typo for the noun importance, but when I looked for the construction on the Web, I found enough examples to conclude that some speakers may be using the combination “symbolic important” intentionally:

But even outside consideration of annual cycles, four and twelve have great symbolic important. —The Greathouse [Publishing] Company.

Some places also have symbolic important for us, as cultural assets, symbolic referents. —Healthy Living Centres, Geoffey Purves, Taylor & Francis, 2007.

This film is of highly symbolic important because its scenes and juxtapositions are abbreviated rather than carried toward their most logical extension.—The Men Inside, Barry N. Malzberg, Orion Publishing Group, 2011.

The Symbolic Important of Birds in the Qur’an: Implications for Science and Technology. —Article title in IFE Journal of Religions, Vol. 6, No2, 2010.

In some ways, Varner is right. Japanese defense planners have attached a symbolic important to certain US weapons. Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Something can be both symbolic and important, but not “of symbolic important.”

When someone describes an event or action as being “of symbolic importance,” the usual meaning is, “important, but of little practical effect.” Used to describe an object or a place, the phrase means “important emotionally.” For example:

The nine-day visit of the U.S. president to China is only of symbolic importance, especially for the Chinese. No breakthrough is expected of the visit in tackling any of the problematic issues, although there are plenty of them. 

The Royal Air Force will hold a service for personnel and families at Lincoln Cathedral, a place of great symbolic importance for the RAF.

Another possibility does exist that might explain this strange use of the adjective important in place of the noun importance in the phrase “symbolic importance.” The error may arise from the use of voice transcription.

For example, I found the error in the transcription of an interview on the National Public Radio site. Michel Martin is asking Sylvia Poggioli about an upcoming visit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the Vatican:

MARTIN: What is the symbolic important of this?

In the recorded interview, Martin clearly says “importance.”

If you use the expression when dictating to a voice transcription app, be sure to double-check your spelling in the final draft.

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


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4 Responses to “Symbolic and Important”

  • thebluebird11

    Maybe they mean “import” in the sense of meaning or importance? (accent on 1st syllable).

  • Elisabeth Edwards

    Or maybe they were thinking of the noun ‘portent’, which is often qualified by the adjective ‘symbolic’?

  • danny

    Or maybe it’s just such an easy error, especially with auto-correct and reliance on auto-spell-check software, which would miss this error, that it happens more often than we’d expect.

  • Mike Rose

    Another non-issue. There is nothing to report here. There are most certainly not “enough examples” to indicate this is an emerging or preexisting error.

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