In “Myth Today,” Roland Barthes defined myths, at their core, as “second-order semiological systems” wherein “that which is a sign (namely the associative totality of a concept and an image) in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second.” (114) Myth is a specific form of speech, according to Barthes, and anything that can be spoken of is subject to becoming myth, just as while “a tree is a tree [...] a tree as expressed by Minou Drouet is no longer quite a tree.” (109) Indeed, anytime an object is synthesized into speech (and by speech, all forms of communication and representation are meant) and used to signify something else, we create a new thing: a sign (the sum of the signifier and the signified), and this sign can be then used again in another system.

To take an example from Barthes:

“Take a bunch of roses: I use it to signify my passion. Do we have here, then, only a signifier and a signified, the roses and my passion? Not even that: to put it accurately, there are here only ‘passionified’ roses.” (113)
These “passionified roses,” now taken as as a sign--a complete thing, not merely the relationship between the initial roses and the initial passion--are now able to be used as a signifier for some other system of meaning: a second-order semiological system. In this new system, the “passionified roses” lose their particular significance and meaning in the first system and becomes merely an empty “form.” This form, when spoken of, will signify a second-order “signified,” which Barthes refers to as a “concept.” The sum of that relationship, between form and concept, is called the “signification,” and this second system of relationships between form, concept, and signification is what Barthes refers to as “Myth.” In a society where the “passionified roses” have become an understood as sign (that is to say, that they exist in the public’s mind outside of a particular set of roses infused with a particular passion), any further use of them in speech will begin a mythological structure, wherein the passionified roses play a part bigger than they did as a mere sign.


Works cited:

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Noonday, 1972. Print.