There are generally two primary meanings that the word symmetry conveys. The first is our regard for things which we visualize as being proportional and balanced in such a way that it is seen as aesthetically pleasing. The second definition of the word is the mutual relation of the parts of something in respect of magnitude and position; a relative measurement and arrangement of parts according to the rules of a formal system, such as geometry and physics. In geometry there are many different operations related to symmetrical isometries. This includes reflection symmetry, rotational symmetry, glide reflection symmetry, rotoreflection symmetry and helical symmetry. These general terms can relate to many natural and man-made objects in the world, where there are mathematical isometries that can be found in their design. Some examples include a sea shell, a butterfly, or a drill bit.
The word originally derives from the Ancient Greek term, σύμμετρος. The word is comprised of two parts, the prefix σύν, or sym-, and μέτρον meaning measure or metre. The prefix sym- means having the same or like form; being conformed. This refers back to the Ancient term peripatetic, meaning a student or follower of Aristotle, or a follower of scholastic philosophers. This again derives from the Greek word συμϕρονεῖν, which means to be of one mind, to be synchronized, or involving coincidence or identity of thought, and embodying the same ideas. The second component of the word, metre, means partly. This comes from the classical Latin metrum, meaning a poetic measurement. It can be a vessel or other object that is used for measurement of a line of verse or poem. This is an extended form of an Indo-European base meaning ‘to measure’ and partly a reborrowing in Middle English, and later adapted in many European countries beginning in the 12th century with Old French.
Things which are symmetrical are typically thought of as having correct or pleasing proportions. There is harmony that the parts have between each other and the whole. Persons or animals are deemed beautiful if they have a well-proportioned figure or form. This also reflects on architecture. One of the first uses of the word was by J. Shute in 1563, in his novel, The first and chief groundes of architecture vsed in all the auncient and famous monymentes (1st ed.) ‘Concerning ye proportion and simetry to vse the accustomed terme of the arte of the fornamed columbes.’ He describes the beauty that is cast from symmetrical columns found and used in architecture. Symmetry is used to show balance and unity in art and architecture, which can be seen in almost all buildings, anywhere from the Parthenon in Ancient Greece, to the Taj Mahal in India.
Symmetry is very often sought out in architecture and building techniques. We find beauty in the form and relative measurement and proportion seen in nature and the world we have created around us. In 1650, J. Bulwer says that, ‘True and native beauty consists in the just composure and symetrie of the parts of the body.’ in his text Anthropometamporphosis. We enjoy the harmony and balance that can be seen in symmetrical objects and animals, including people. This has reflected in what we design and create in our world; symmetry can be seen wherever we go.
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"Sym- Prefix". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/196190#eid19326009 (accessed November 20, 2012).
"Metre". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/117646#eid37116769 (accessed November 20, 2012).
"Symmetry on Vimeo". Vimeo. April 2011. Everynone.com. http://vimeo.com/22564317 (accessed November 20, 2012).