ESPN the Magazine employs two axes in a simple T formation in many of its layouts.

ESPN the Magazine employs two axes in a simple T formation in many of its layouts.

axis
An axis is a straight line between two points. We organize other elements around axes, and we use axes to divide space. An axis is often implied through the arrangement of other visual elements.
class
Classes are groups of people of similar economic and social position who, for that reason, may share political attitudes, lifestyles, consumption patterns, cultural interests and opportunities to get ahead. We generally talk in terms of upper class, middle class and lower class. Class can be a source of identity or a system of exclusion. READ MORE
code
A system of signs, a “framework within which signs make sense.” A code is subject to rules for how signs are selected and combined. The rules can be formal, as in language, or informal, as in personal interaction.
  • Paradigmatic rules guide the meaning or value of a sign as compared with other signs.
  • Syntagmatic rules guide the place of a sign in order with other signs.
  • English grammar, for example, has paradigmatic rules (usage) and syntagmatic rules (sentence structure).
condensation
Condensation refers to the way we combine signs to come up with new meanings.
connotative meaning
A meaning the receiver of the sign might take away from it. The connotative meaning can be quite different from the denotative because of the context surrounding the sign or the receiver’s culture or ideology.
culture
Culture consists of the symbols of expression that individuals, groups and societies use to make sense of daily life. From a semiotic standpoint, culture is a collection of codes. Some, like language, are formal and highly structured. But many are learned through experience rather that formal training. These codes involve the whole universe of belief and guide our behavior.
President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, Nov. 16, 2010.

President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, Nov. 16, 2010. The medal is a symbol of high esteem for Sgt. Salvatore’s bravery in Afghanistan. The buttons on his collar indicate is rank, or status.

denotative meaning
The commonly agreed upon meaning for any sign. For a word, this might be the dictionary definition.
displacement
Displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism: The mind substitutes ideas or objects for thoughts considered dangerous or unacceptable. In the world of visual communication, displacement has become a technique where the communicator substitutes something in an image for something else that cannot be displayed, often because it is sexual in nature.
dot
A dot is a small, circular point in space. It is the most basic element of visual composition. We see it as a dot because of the Gestalt principles of smallness and surroundness.
esteem symbols
Esteem symbols signify how well a person performs the duties of his or her position according to ideal standards, regardless of the person’s rank or position. For example, the Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded for heroic performance regardless of the rank of the person who performs it. On the other hand, the star on the collar that designates the wearer as a general is a status symbol.
genre
A genre is a category of media texts that share a similar structure. A genre can be considered a code within the text that is shared by those who made the text, by those who view and interpret it and with other texts of the same genre. Some examples of television genres: late-night talk show, situation comedy, police procedural.
Gestalt
The word “Gestalt” comes from the German for “essence or shape of an entity's complete form.”" It is a theory that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. According to Gestalt, our senses, especially sight, recognize figures and whole forms instead of just a collection of simple lines and curves.The phrase “The whole is different from the sum of the parts“ helps explain Gestalt theory.

The Golden Proportion is self-replicating; add a square to a Golden Rectangle to get another Golden Rectangle. Add an arc through each square to get this classic spiral. As this street art by Banksy shows, the Golden Proportion is found in all types of art and architecture.

Golden Proportion
The Golden Proportion, often called the “Golden Section,” is a proportion stated as AB:BC = BC:AC. The numerical value, phi (φ), is about 1:1.618, although it is an irrational number, like pi. Mathematicians from Pythagoras and Euclid in ancient Greece through the Italian Leonardo of Pisa (Fibonacci) to Oxford physicist Roger Penrose have studied the Golden Proportion and its properties. It is manifested in art and architecture, ancient and modern.
intertextuality
The notion of studying how media texts came into being by locating a text’s place among previous texts, especially those that are similar in type, or genre. Theorist Julia Kristeva states that intertextuality is “the passage from one sign system [code] to another,” thus forming of a new code.
line
A line can be thought of as a series of dots, or as “a dot that went for a walk.” A line by its nature separates things on either side of it. Or it can connect two things at either end.
media text
Any document or object that makes its meanings with images, sound, text or meaningful patterns. Visual texts include charts, maps, diagrams, photos, illus- trations, paintings, animation and motion pictures, to name a few. Other media texts include audio recordings, books, magazines and newspapers.
metaphor
A metaphor is a trope that explains something in terms of something else. Example: “My job is a dead end street.”
metonymy
Metonymy is a trope that uses a vaguely suggestive, physical object to embody a more general idea. Example: “The bulls were out today on Wall Street.Bulls stands for a surge in the stock market. Wall Street also is a metonymy for the financial markets in general.
mise en scène
Mise en scène is a method of analyzing “film as film,” separate from the social context surrounding the film. It focuses on what can be seen in the frame and how it got there. It also could be considered a style of filmmaking that relies on careful setting up and execution of a scene, rather than relying on editing to correct mistakes.
montage
A film-editing style of juxtaposing images, often in rhythmic or repeated patterns.

Director Peter Jackson made extensive use of forced perspective to make the Hobbits appear smaller than humans. In this scene, actor Elijah Wood appears smaller than Ian McKellen, but in reality he is farther from the camera. This YouTube video explains how it’s done.

perspective
The art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface to give the illusion of height, width, depth and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.
perspective, forced
The technique of using optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, larger or smaller than it is. Forced perspective manipulates human visual perception through the use of scaled objects and the correlation between them, and the vantage point of the spectator or camera.
proportion
Proportion is the relationship of width to height in any shape or composition. Proportion usually is stated as a ratio, width:height. A square, then, would have the proportion of 1:1.

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The Rosetta Stone (British Museum)

pseudo events
The events we see in the media as “reality” are often carefully constructed productions with the specific purposes of attracting media attention. The goal often is to “fix the meaning” of an event, in the words of cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall. Daniel Boorstin bases his concept of the pseudo event on the growing im- portance of the graphic image in communication in the middle of the 20th Century, what he calls the “graphic age.” The most obvious type of pseudo event is the “photo op.”
Roman typeface
Roman letters, derived from stone carvings, are upright, with serifs and variation of thick and thin strokes. Roman typefaces we use today, such as Times Roman, follow this style but with lowercase letters added.
Rosetta Stone
Found in 1790 in Egypt, the Rosetta Stone held inscriptions of a single text, in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic script and ancient Greek. French scholar Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832), in translating the inscriptions, realized the phonetic value of hieroglyphs; they have more than symbolic meaning and served as a “spoken language.”
serif

Saussure’s two-part sign.

semiotics
The study of signs. It involves the theory and analysis of signs, codes and signifying practices.
serif
A small appendage at the bases and tops of letters. The two main races of type fonts are serif and sans-serif, type without serifs.
sign
An image, object, sound or action that stands for something else, including objects and concepts. According to wiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), a sign consists of two inseperable parts:
  • The signifier is the material or physical form a sign takes,something we can see, hear, touch, smell or taste.
  • The signified is the object or concept to which the signifier refers.
sign modes
The connection between a signifier and its signified can be described as three sign modes:
  • Iconic mode. The sign vehicle’s meaning is expressed through resemblance. The iconic signifier appears similar to its object, and we process the sign through recognition. Indexical mode. The sign vehicle’s meaning is expressed through a physical connection with its object, through cause and effect. The indexical signifier is evidence that something exists or has occurred, and we process the sign using reasoning.
  • Symbolic mode. Meaning is arbitrary, and we process the sign using a set of conventions we have learned.
simile
When something is like something else. Example: “The move was like a bad dream, only in color.”
spatiality
Spatiality is the concept of space as a signifier. How we think of space is part of our cultural code. Duke professor Wesley Kort has developed a framework of human spatiality in which he identifies three types of space:
  1. cosmic or comprehensive space
  2. social space
  3. personal or intimate space.
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status
Status, position and role have been used interchangeably to refer to the set of rights and obligations that governs the behavior of persons acting in a given social capacity. The rights and obligations of a status are fixed through time by means of external sanctions enforced by law, public opinion and threat of social or economic loss. Such sanctions are internalized into a conception of self and give rise to guilt, remorse and shame. A status may be ranked on a scale of prestige, according to the amount of social value that is placed upon it relative to other statuses in the same sector of social life. An individual may be rated on a scale of esteem, depending on how closely his performance approaches the ideal established for that particular status.
The Rolls-Royce and the private jet plane are to symbols of high status in society — at least high economic status.

The Rolls-Royce and the private jet plane are to symbols of high status in society — at least high economic status.

status symbols
Status symbols are specialized sign vehicles used for displaying a person’s position. They are the cues others decode to determine how to treat a person socially. Erving Goffman writes: “Status symbols visibly divide the social world into categories of persons, thereby helping to maintain solidarity within a category and hostility between different categories.” Status symbols “place” a person in the social order. READ MORE
synecdoche
Part of a physical object is used to represent the whole object. Example: “I want eyes on the street, people.”
taste
The ability to make discriminating judgments about aesthetic and artistic matters. Taste is part of the process by which social actors construct meaning about their social world. They classify people, practices and things into categories of unequal value. Taste is displayed in conversation, habits and manners, and in the possession of goods that signal membership in communities of wealth or knowledge. Taste also allows for the identification and exclusion of outsiders whose standards of taste differ and who do not belong.
The Lone Ranger

The white hat is a familiar trope, signifying the hero in a western movie, while the black hat is associated with the villain.

tropes
In rhetoric, tropes are figures of speech that help explain things or have an unexpected twist in the meaning of words. The four master tropes are metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy and irony. Visual tropes often are used as a symbolic shorthand, especially in advertising, to get the message across quickly. An example is the white hat (hero) vs. the black hat (villain) in westerns such as The Lone Ranger.
typography
Typography is the balance and interplay of letter forms on the page, a verbal and visual equation that helps the reader understand the form and absorb the substance of the page content.

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