Car emblems, badges and decals: what’s the difference?

At first glance, the words in the title of this article may all seem identical; that is, they may seem like nothing more than three ways of saying the same thing. In truth, however, there are differences, albeit subtle ones.

In this article, I want to show you what those differences are, why they’re important, and the criteria you should use when deciding whether to use car emblems or something else for your car. These distinctions are important because each one sends a message about you to those who see it, and that may be very different from what you intended.

What did these words originally mean?

So, to begin with, let’s consider the original meanings of these words. Etymonline is a website that does just that. According to them, the word emblem was derived from French and Greek, and referred to “embedded ornamental works” that were “thrown”. In this sense, it symbolized something else.

The word insignia probably referred to the emblem when it was first used in the 15th century. The word decal was not used until the early 20th century and is a shortened version of decalcomania or the French “decalcomania”. However, he was referring to what was known in 18th-century England as “transfer printing,” a process in which a design or drawing was transferred from paper to glass or porcelain in the oven. The print was affixed to the object and when fired, the paper faded away, leaving the image on the plate, vase, or bowl.

What do these words mean today?

The word decal is not found in Roget’s Thesaurus; but the word insignia is, and here we discover that it can be used in three ways. The way most of us are used to it is as a means of identifying authority. So we have police or detective badges and military badges. Sometimes we refer to the way someone behaves as a badge of this profession or that profession: the badge of a servant, valet, groom, or bailiff. Other times, we refer to a form of behavior, usually disreputable, that is the result of the opinions or feelings of others about us.

Emblem can also mean authority, but it is much more common to think of it as a representation of our ideas. In other words, it is a symbol of something that is important to us.

Why does that matter?

I mentioned earlier that the distinctions between them were important because of the messages they gave each other. For example, in the case of car emblems, the symbol says something about you as a driver. If you simply show the name of the dealer you bought the car from, then anyone who likes it will know where they can get one too. If it represents a national flag, everyone will know that you are proud of your country. If you display the logo of a particular group of athletes, everyone will know that you support that team.

Badges, for the most part, are used to convey authority. On military bases, a general will have a badge with the appropriate number of stars. In a parade, the Grand Marshal’s car will be designated in some way so that everyone knows that car is his, hers, or theirs. A decal can also be an insignia such as the door-sized ones placed on the sides of police cars.

Car emblems also say something about the economic strata from which the driver comes or aspires. Popular automobile emblems include a horse on its hind legs (Ferrari) and two capital R’s superimposed on top of each other (Rolls Royce). Manufacturers use car emblems to send a message about their brand to their customers. One can hardly imagine them using a decal for this.

What is your message?

What message do you want to send to others? Do you want to impress them, inspire them, cajole them? Do you want them to think of you more, less of you, or don’t you care? Your attitudes will determine your behavior. The next time you go to your car, walk around it and ask yourself, “What does it say about me?” “What car emblems would tell people who I really am or who I want to be?” There is no time like the present.

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