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Symbology Research Failure

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Russian Orthodox Church architecture on a Communist War Factory. A Church Militant's nothing compared to this.

This trope occurs when a creator will include religious or cultural symbols without realizing that they are religious or cultural symbols for use in a particular context. They'll have seen the imagery turning up in the art of another culture and so use it for that ethnic or fantastical flavor. They'll use a saint's name because they like the sound, or make every building look like a church because they like the pretty arches. This can confound any audience member who knows what those images really are about and wonders, "What's that doing there?"

Compare Sadly Mythtaken, Squat's in a Name, Famous-Named Foreigner, and Cultural Blending.

Contrast with Faux Symbolism. In that trope, the creator knows it has some symbolic meaning and tries to throw these ideas on top of the work in vaguely appropriate situations to try to make things seem deep and meaningful. In this trope, the placement being out of joint with any appropriate context highlights the lack of intended depth.

Can overlap, but is not to be confused with, Falsely Advertised Accuracy. Actually, it should be, since there's no field of study called symbology.note 


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  • This GEICO ad parodying the Running of the Bulls as the "Running of the Bulldogs" shows the crowd waving a zillion flags of Spain (which is not nearly as common in reality) and of Catalonia, which has no excuse because it is nowhere near Pamplona.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Situations where crosses are meant to denote "gaijin" (not Church Militant, just normal European war forces) in some anime/manga.
    • Similarly, a character wearing a cross is as likely to reflect, say, the popularity of a certain Madonna album at the time the show was made as the character's religious beliefs.
  • Japanese media also likes to depict Europeans in 18th and early 19th century clothes like leggings, breeches, dress coats and bicornes or tricornes, regardless of actual setting.

  • Played straight in The Boondock Saints. Smecker interprets the McManus brothers' habit of placing pennies in the eyes of the dead to be a payment to Charon (Greek ferrymen of the dead across the river Styx), so they can cross over and atone for what they did in life. The payment to Charon was a coin under the tongue. Placing coins on the eyes simply served as a weight to keep the eyelids from opening on their own post-mortem. Not to mention that two very Christian Irishmen would probably not participate in a pagan Greek funeral rite. Worth noting, the quote associated with that scene:
    Dolly: So what's the symbology there?
    Smecker: Symbology? Now that Duffy has relinquished his "King Bonehead" crown, I see we have an heir to the throne! I'm sure the word you were looking for was "symbolism." What is the ssss-himbolism there?
  • The Da Vinci Code opens with Robert Langdon conferencing about symbology in France. He shows the audience an image similar to this and asks them the first idea it conjures in their mind. They say "hatred," "racism," and "Ku Klux Klan." Langdon replies: "Yes, yes, interesting. But they would disagree with you in Spain. There, they are robes worn by priests." This is wrong. They are Nazareno suits, worn by lay congregationists during Holy Week processions. They are only worn by priests when the priests don't want others to know that they are priests - the point of the suit, at least in its origin, was to hide the identity of the so-called penitents.
  • Mission: Impossible II mixes the processions of the Holy Week in Seville with the "Fallas" of Valencia (and throws in some people dressed for Pamplona's running of the bulls looking at them for good measure), even having a character uttering the line "how crazy Spaniards are, burning their saints to honor them?" The origin of the Fallas is only incidentally religious: they take place in the four days prior to March 19, Saint Joseph's day in the Catholic calendar, who is the patron saint of carpenters. In this day, carpenters would take out and burn the wooden splinters left by their work that could not be reused, and over time it evolved into the confection of elaborate structures over the year for the express purpose of being burned that day. These structures often make parodic references to events of the year and feature caricatures of politicians, actors and other famous people, but never effigies of saints or other figures of worship. And they are not held in Seville.
  • In the 1959 movie Thunder in the Sun, about a group of 19th century Basque immigrants in California, the characters use jai alai baskets as weapons and the irrintzi (a traditional high-pitched yelling used by Basque shepherds to denote happiness) as a coded language. The latter confusion may have been based on Silbo Gomero, a pre-Hispanic whistling language from the Canary Islands (which naturally has nothing to do with Basque culture, but neither does the Flamenco danced by the characters in another scene).
  • Kingdom of Heaven:
    • Guy de Lusignan and Reynald de Chatillon are portrayed as members of The Knights Templar, which doesn't make sense because Templars were celibate and renounced all titles outside the order.
    • Balian is attacked by Templars in one scene... except instead of wearing the Templar red cross, they are wearing the black cross of the Teutonic Order. They cannot be Teutonic Order because (besides being never mentioned in the movie) it was founded in 1190, right after the events of the film.
    • One of Saladin's top officers, presumably a Muslim, wears versicles of the Quran sewn into his clothes. It is expressly forbidden in Islam to sew words from the Quran into clothing. Only a few exceptions are allowed and only in the case of flags and banners.
  • Black Knight (2001): The English Medieval castle that Fish out of Temporal Water Jamal travels to has early 20th century Hungarian flags. Presumably, the crown looked too Medieval to pass on. But then it's revealed that it's All Just a Dream.
  • At the beginning of The World Is Not Enough, James Bond looks out of a window in Bilbao and sees Spanish National Police cruisers coming. But when the police enter the room, they are wearing the uniforms of the Basque regional police (Ertzaintza).

  • The Clansman and its movie adaptation, The Birth of a Nation (1915) outright created the modern imagery of The Klan by attributing it symbols that the first KKK of the 1870s never used. Namely, the burning cross, which author Thomas Dixon, a Scotsman, took from the Jacobites (and the book indeed identifies as "The Fiery Cross of old Scotland's hills!") and the white outfits complete with pointed helmets and horse caparisons that were inspired by Medieval knights (the first KKK used sack masks like in Django Unchained, and sometimes simple robes, at most).
  • Digital Fortress uses the real fact that Christopher Columbus is interred in the Cathedral of Seville to claim that he is a saint worshipped in the "Spanish" Church, rather than him being there just as a notable person since churches were common burial places until recently. Not content with it, Dan Brown then blows it completely out of the water by inventing that his body was butchered and turned into relics that were disseminated in churches through the whole country, with Seville being left as the proud guardian of his scrotum.
  • David Hewson's Semana Santa (aka Death in Seville) mixes Seville's Holy Week, which is religious, and the Fair, which is not and is held a couple of weeks after the Holy Week. The result couldn't be more blasphemous. Religious processions are described as "parades" attended by people out of amusement rather than devotion, there is a lot of drinking, women wear mourning Mantillas and polka-dotted Flamenco dresses at the same time, and there is a "great bullfight" to mark the end of the "festival". Even the killer himself wears a Nazareno suit during his crimes and inflicts bullfighting-mimicking wounds on his victims.
  • The Hunger Games: The three-fingered hand sign used in the series as a symbol of La Résistance is actually the scount hand sign used by scouting organizations around the world.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Invoked in the first season of Boardwalk Empire when Margaret reads a poem about ghosts during Halloween and Nan Britton asks if they will read it again when they go to Church later that night. Margaret is baffled and clarifies that they are going to a religious service for All Saints' Day, not a Halloween party.
  • A 1983 Spanish birth certificate seen in the episode "El Toro Bravo" of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders has entries for "religion" and "church" (in English), which obviously aren't present in a real Spanish birth certificate and rather belong in a church's baptism registry.note  Not content with that, the document also has two references to Don Quixote thrown in for no reason (one of them in said church's name, which is "The Cathedral of the Cervantes Family" written in the worst possible Spanish grammar, but cathedrals are not named after random, non-holy families), a diminutive used as a full name, and a pre-1931 King of Spain's personal coat of arms where the country's coat of arms should be.
    • In the same episode, the stock footage of Pamplona's Renaissance cathedral is actually Valencia's Central Market, which is a metal-based Art Deco building from just before World War I, has no religious function, and is 600 miles away to boot. Footage of the actual cathedral is used to establish the aforementioned fictional church (which despite being called "cathedral" in the certificate is not, and the church they shot in is clearly smaller than the one in stock footage anyway).
    • The episode also runs with the idea that the bulls in the Running are worshipped (or used to), and that you shouldn't bother them during the Running because you are ruining a "sacred" moment. In reality, you are not supposed to bother the bulls because you will get gored or trampled - or worse, get some other completely innocent person killed instead. The weird thing is that the dialogue does mention that touching the bull will make it more dangerous and liable to attack in that very same scene, but instead of following this to a logical conclusion, the writer throws in some pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo that isn't needed. In another scene, the so-called cultural experts wonder if the killer's intention is to replace Saint Firmin as patron saint of Pamplona,note  which again shows the author's poor understanding of Catholicism.
    • An obscure instance of the trope is the fact that the killer, who fancies himself a bullfighter, always uses a small knife called puntilla to kill his victims by cutting their spinal cord. In bullfighting, the killing blow is actually delivered to the heart with a estoque, a sword with no edge that can pierce, but not cut. The puntilla is only used when the matador fails to kill the bull with the estoque, and it being needed would likely get him booed because its use is considered poor performance.
    • There is also a "peace monument" with the Spanish and Basque regional flags, presumably built by the government. The problem is that Navarre is its own region with its own flag (never seen in the episode), and the Basque regional flag is only used by Basque nationalists who support the union of both regions.
  • Criminal Minds had an in-universe one when a cult staged a series of murders to look like they were being carried out by Native American extremists in hopes of starting a race war. To anybody with actual knowledge of the topic - such as a resident of an Apache reservation who was called upon to aid in examining the murders - it was obvious that they'd mixed together the most brutal practices from several cultures without rhyme or reason.
  • Vikings was criticized for using anachronistic Scandinavian stave church architecture to depict the great pagan temple at Old Uppsala. Also for placing that temple on a mountain, when real Uppsala is flatter than a board.
  • In The Last Kingdom, the Saxons fight with allohistorical square shields to differentiate them from the Danes, when both used round shields in reality. And yet, many Dane shields have crosses despite the Danes being Pagan and the Saxons Christian being a plot point. The distinction could have been shown just by having the Saxons use the round shields with crosses, and the Danes round shields with other designs, such as crows and dragons.
  • Caroline in the City: The gang travels to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls. The streets are full of flags, none of which look like any Spanish flag. The only one that looks like a real flag is a flag of Barbados, of all places.
  • In The Borgias, the banner of Spain is the arms of Castile over the bars of Aragon. The actual banner at the time was made from the arms of Castile and Aragon equally.
  • FBI: International:
    • In "American Optimism", Spanish National Police cruisers are yellow and labeled "National Police - Madrid". They obviously based them on Madrid Local Police cars, which are yellow and read "Local Police Madrid". National Police cars are navy blue and say "National Police" regardless of city.
    • The same cars bear a griffin seal that looks nothing like either the Madrid or National Police seals, but somewhat like the seal of the G.R.I., an obscure riot police of the Madrid local police, who doesn't use the seal in cars (cars have the normal Madrid local police seal instead).
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: "Who you really are" features a "Regional Police" in Faro, Portugal. No such corps exists in Portuguese law enforcement; closest is a "Regional Command" of the PSP in Madeira and another in the Açores, which are the only parts of Portugal with some devolution. The Portuguese also speak either Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese.
  • The Spanish Inquisition in Monty Python's Flying Circus (and media referencing them, like Age of Empires III) wear the red robes and hats of Catholic cardinals. Technically there was no inquisitor uniform, but many were Dominican priests, who wear white and black robes.

    Video Games 
  • The Soviet War Factory from Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, with an "onion dome" — a traditional element of Russian Orthodox church architecture — lodged on its roof. Several other Soviet structures in this game were given similar "attachments". On the other hand, Red Alert (from that game on, at least) is built entirely on Camp and Rule of Cool/Rule of Funny, so this can be excused by the MST3K Mantra.
    • May be justified as the Bolsheviks (especially at the beginning) found new uses for the buildings of the "opium of the people". The churches that weren't shuttered or demolished were converted into theaters, town halls, stables, warehouses, or museums. Thanks to the Church's large manpower contributions to the anti-revolutionary White Army, and enormous wealth, they were a top opponent of the Bolsheviks. The succeeding Soviet government was openly anti-religious and any Christian symbolism was prohibited until The '80s, with an exception of a period during the War.
    • Also partly justified in Red Alert 2 as the Soviet leader is a descendant of the Romanov family, and he may have restored some of the pre-revolutionary antics as long as it doesn't contradict the Soviet socialism. It also may have something to do with the fact that, if you showed people a photo of buildings in Moscow and asked them to point to the Kremlin (a fortified former palace strongly associated with the government of the USSR/Russia in much the same way as "White House" is used metaphorically to refer to the Executive Branch of government in the US) they'd be much more likely to point to St. Basil's Cathedral (the building with all the onion domes in Easter egg colors, which is just across Red Square from the Kremlin) than to the Grand Kremlin Palace itself (which looks more like a rather nice hotel). The Red Alert games actually avoid this common mistake, as they show both the St. Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin in most Moscow-based missions, and the objective revolving around the Kremlin (either to capture the Premier or bury the Premier/a usurper/a time machine under the rubble) point towards the real Kremlin.
    • Proving that at least they're even-handed, Red Alert 3 puts Shinto torii on Imperial buildings. This might be slightly more justified, since they have been occasionally used in secular architecture, and the Empire is explicitly endorsing State Shinto, reverence of the Emperor as a deity.
  • The Kremlin wonder in White Day: A Labyrinth Named School world time puzzle... is actually St. Basil's Cathedral.
  • Same for Rise of Nations.
  • And Civilization IV as well. Proving that Firaxis has a sense of humor about it, the following Civ V actually does have the Kremlin show up as itself in that game, but in a nod to prior mistakes the small icon for it is still St. Basil's Cathedral. Likewise, the Masjid al-Haram wonder in IV is actually the Dome of the Rock. For those not in the know, the former is the Kaaba — the Black Cube — in a big mosque in Mecca. The latter is the blue and gold octagon in Jerusalem, which while cool and significant isn't half as cool or significant as the actual Masjid, which is the holiest site in Islam.
  • Age of Empires series examples:
    • Mayincatec castles in the Age of Empires II expansion The Conquerors are very impractical sacrifice pyramids. Probably done on purpose as realistic Mesoamerican fortresses wouldn't be as iconic.
    • Similarly, in the The War Chiefs expansion of Age of Empires III, where the Native American civilizations don't build temples - they get a fire pit where the villagers dance in exchange of new units and techs instead - the inevitable lack of pyramids in the Aztecs is solved by having pyramid-shaped barracks.
    • The developers also run into understandable trouble when they tried to adapt the game's European-based army system to the Aztecs. Still, they could have done a better job:
      • Slingers are called "Macehualtin", the plural form of the Nahuatl word for "farmer" (singular Macehualli). Word of God is that they represent peasant levies trained at the Telpochcalli, but so would every other unit trained at the Aztec version of the Barracks (called "War Hut" in the game).
      • The Aztec version of the Pikeman, the "Puma Spearman" is fictional (although spears were their most common weapon, both for commoners and nobles). The top upgrade carries a battle standard on his back, making them very common in late game Aztec armies because spearmen are the main trash unit, but in reality there would be only one standard at a time carried by a general.
      • Three ranks of "Coyote Runners" serve as the Aztec version of cavalry. The closest thing in real life were Coyote Warriors, who were the sixth rank of Aztec Warrior Priests. Warrior Priests appear as a separate unit in the game, but seem to be based on non-combatant priests and are armed with sacrificial knives instead of battlefield weapons.
      • Jaguar and Eagle knights, much like in the previous game, appear as different units with their independent rank system, while Eagle graduated into Jaguars in real life. This is correctly referenced in the second game's campaign, however.
      • Regardless of upgrade, the "Arrow Knights" (also fictional) wear the red and black suits and conical hats of a Cuextecatl, i.e. any Aztec warrior that had taken two captives in the battlefield. As you can figure, the Cuextecatl was just the intermediate rank between a warrior who had made one captive (Tlamanih) and one who had made three (Papalotl).
      • However, the History section implies that Arrow Knights are not Aztecs but draftees from an unnamed conquered people. They may actually be Huastec Mayans, whose uniforms were copied by Cuextecatl because of how much Huastecs impressed the Aztecs with their fighting power. The Huastecs were also proficient archers, unlike most Mesoamerican peoples.
      • A Papalotl (Nahuatl for "Butterfly") wore butterfly wings on his back. In the game, wings are worn only by fully upgraded Macehualtin.
      • The Aztecs' most powerful unit, the fictional "Skull Knigthts", wear the uniform of a Tlacochcalcatl, the real-life commander-in-chief of all Aztec armies and the most powerful man in the empire after the Emperor (in fact, it was common for a Tlacochcalcatl to succeed the Emperor after his death; Montezuma was himself an example of this). Needless to say, a troop of Tlacochcalcatl makes as much sense as a battallion of Generalissimos. And yet the Aztecs had a real top unit in real life that was made of highly experienced fighters who refused promotion in order to fight at the front lines and could have been a perfectly valid substitute, but are absent from the game altogether - the Cuachicqueh or "Shorn Ones".
    • In the second expansion to AoE III, The Asian Dynasties, the Chinese get a "Confucian Academy" as one of their wonders which is used to... build siege engines.
      • The Chinese have (implied) Mongolian light cavalry units, called "Steppe Riders" and "Keshiks" (named after the Yuan Dynasty's royal guard). Manchu cavalry would make more sense, both in standard game and campaign mode, because the Manchu were vassals of the Ming before rebelling against them, unlike the Mongols. However, the only Manchu unit in the game is a mercenary introduced in the vanilla version.
    • The faction flags and leaders in III rarely match up, since the leaders of the original game were mostly chosen for being the ones to first establish overseas colonies, while the flags were chosen as the most commonly used design during the colonial period. This results in Henry the Navigator flying the Portuguese CoA on a white background (introduced 30 years after his death), Isabella flying the Habsburg Cross of Burgundy, Elizabeth flying the hybrid English-Scottish jack, Napoleon flying the Bourbon three Fleures-de-Lis, and Ivan the Terrible flying Peter the Great's imperial standard (why they didn't just use Peter the Great as Russian leader remains a Riddle for the Ages). Suleiman actually gets the modern Republic of Turkey flag. The only leader that can be content is Maurice of Nassau, who gets to fly a Dutch navy flag.
    • The German flag, however, merits its own entry. It has a bizarre crowned, black, two-headed eagle over a white background, seemingly a combination of the Prussian (crowned, black, one-headed eagle on a white background) and Holy Roman Empire flags (non-crowned, black, two-headed eagle on a yellow background).
    • The Asian factions mostly follow their European colleagues. Kangxi flies the Qing dragon flag adopted in the late 19th century (although the colors and dragon had been popular before) and Tokugawa flies the Tokugawa seal on a black background (the actual Tokugawa flag was much less badass). The Chinese still fly the Qing flag in their campaign, set during the (Han) Ming dynasty over two centuries before it was dethroned by the (Manchu) Qing.
    • Similarly to the German case, the Indians have a fictional flag (golden sun and lion over yellow field) that appears to be a combination of Mughal (sun and lion over green field, among others; a Muslim dynasty) and Maratha designs (plain pale orange field; a Hindu dynasty). Akbar's AI personality names "the gods" several times, and his Indian civilization is very clearly Hindu, but the real Akbar was Muslim.
    • The native Sufi Mosque is based on Afghan religious architecture and appears in all south Asian maps because it is the only way for non-Indian players to get War Elephants. This includes Indochina... and Mongolia, for some reason. The non-interactive religious men at the Mosque, however, use the model of Hindu Brahmins.
    • The cathedral in St. Petersburg... is St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. St. Petersburg was built in the 18th century as part of Peter the Great's westernizing efforts and its architecture was deliberatedly based on cities like Venice and Paris for a long time. It wasn't until nationalism's heyday in the 1880s (i.e. after the timeframe of the game) when Russian-style churches like Savior on Blood were built.
    • The cathedrals in Seville and Lisbon are actually the Cathedral of Florence, a leftover from development when the Italians were going to be the fourth Mediterranean playable faction (together with the Portuguese, Spanish, and Ottomans, who get the Hagia Sophia instead).
    • Many of the above elements have been corrected in some way in the Definitive Edition: for example, the aforementioned cathedral is now based on the Lisbon Cathedral.
  • Stave church architecture is used frequently for housing, castles and great halls in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
  • Empire Earth II: The second wonder for the African civilizations is the Market of Djenne, which gives extra money for every completed trade. The actual model used is the Mosque of Djenne (presumably to avoid confusion with the Middle Eastern wonder of the same period, Suleiman's Mosque (which instead gives gold for killing enemies), which to be fair overlooks the market.
  • Street Fighter V:
    • The game was pulled for correction when a Muslim player noticed that the Thai temple stage theme remixed the Islamic call for prayer. The unbelievable part is that the temple is very obviously Buddhist.
    • The Brazil stage has Rio's Corcovado mountain in the background, but the Christ Redeemer statue has been replaced with a structure very similar to The World Cup. Word of God is that the developers didn't want to offend Christians by including Jesus's image in a game... but who would say this was the right alternative.
  • In EA Sports UFC 2, Russian martial artist Khabib Nurmagomedov is shown performing the Sign of the Cross in his victory pose. Nurmagomedov is a devout Muslim, hails from a predominantly-Muslim region in Russia, and is one of the most famous Muslim athletes in the world. After he called out EA Sports for such a grievous error, they quickly apologized and changed his victory pose in the next patch update.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: There's a piece of artwork for the game that depicts Link kneeling before a crucifix. While crosses had appeared in prior games, these could be explained by Earth Drift, whereas A Link to the Past was the game that started to develop the series' mythology into something that was distinctly non-Christian.
    • Early copies of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time infamously included some Islamic symbols that had to be Bowdlerized in later releases. The music for the Fire Temple featured a sample of Islamic prayer chanting, and the symbol of the Gerudo was a star and crescent that's often used in the real world as a symbol of Islam. The music for the Fire Temple was altered in later prints of the Nintendo 64 cartridge, while the star and crescent was removed starting with the GameCube rerelease.

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in Problem Sleuth where several stats are shown using very out-of-place Christian imagery, such as monstrances, communion wafers, the Gifts of the Magi, etc.

    Western Animation 
  • Seth MacFarlane is obviously a pretty big fan of Rule of Funny, but his use of Jewish symbols is, unsurprisingly, way off the mark. In at least a couple episodes in Family Guy he shows Jews wearing prayer shawls at the wrong times (either outside of prayer, or at nighttime services when they are not worn), and The Cleveland Show at one point, in a fantasy cutaway, shows Cleveland reciting Kol Nidre, the Aramaic annulment of vows that begins Yom Kippur, by reading it out of a Torah scroll. It is a legal declaration, not a Biblical passage, and is certainly not found in the Torah (it's not even in the same language).
  • In a Schoolhouse Rock!-style music video in American Dad!, the Kremlin used as a counterpart to the White House... is actually St. Basil's Cathedral.
  • The Simpsons has also made this mistake more than once, though it's easy to miss behind the glamour of Zombie Lenin. One episode had a figure of the Virgin Mary presiding a football stadium in Brazil. The statue then became alive and took part in a fight between hooligans.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) had the Running of the Bulls taking place in Lisbon (it looked nothing like Lisbon, of course), and also made the error of mixing the Running with the Holy Week processions (not by having processions around the same time as the Running, but by having "processions" of bull and matador figures).

    Several Media 
  • Use of San(to)/Santa ("Saint") followed by any random word to name fictional Spanish-speaking locations. Marvel is particularly prone:
    • San Elanya, home village of minor Marvel Comics superhero El Aguila.note 
    • Santo Rica ("Saint Rich"), also from Marvel Comics. This one is not even grammatically correct: Santo is a masculine word and Rica, feminine. Some writers have caught on this and use "Santo Rico".
    • San Gusto ("Saint Taste"). San Justo and San Gustavo would have been perfect names, but... nope.
    • The worst example has to be places in several different stories called San Diablo...Saint Devil. This one also pops up in the Spy Kids.
    • Out of Marvel there is the fake travel guide to San Sombrèro ("Saint Hàt").note 
    • Another non-Marvel example: San Angeles, home base of the Power Rangers Operation Overdrive. Done as a San Diego/Los Angeles mashup of course, but seriously - "Saint Angels"? San Angeles is also used as the setting in Demolition Man, but this time it is justified: San Angeles is a megalopolis formed by the future growth and unification of San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.note 
    • From Dead Rising, the town Carlito is avenging is Santa Cabeza. In English, it means Saint Head.
    • Early in 2017, a slip of the tongue by Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski gave us the memetic Banana Republic of San Escobar.
    • San Grigio in Murder Mystery. Grigio means "Gray" in Italian, which might be a joke about it being a dull place.
  • The Kremlin in a great deal of American source material is actually St. Basil's Cathedral. This is probably due to Western journalism superimposing an image of the Cathedral while announcing news relating to Russia during much of the 20th century. Perhaps ironically, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 does feature both, having models for what is an incorrectly-designed Grand Kremlin Palace and the cathedral. It doesn't help that when you do a Google image search for "Kremlin," what shows up most prominently ... is actually St. Basil's Cathedral. It's a shame because there are some rather nice-looking churches on the Kremlin grounds. That said, the Kremlin is a fortress. With red walls and green roofs. Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed stands just outside the Kremlin. It is a colorful temple.
  • Letters in non-Roman alphabets are particularly prone to being used as substitutes for the Roman letters they resemble rather than the Roman letters they actually represent.
    • The Greek capital letter Lambda (L) looks like a Latin A without the horizontal dash. It has the advantage of being recognizable as a letter (the wrong one) while making anything look instantly Greek. Many authors therefore use it as a substitute for A, leading to nonsensical things like the poster for Agora which actually says "LGORL" in a mix of Greek and Latin letters. Then there's Sigma, which looks vaguely like E, to similar effect.
    • The Backwards Я is this trope applied to the Cyrillic alphabet. Amusingly enough, the Lambda joke exists here as well, since the letter for L is directly borrowed from the Greek alphabet.
  • Ancient Greek hoplites in fiction almost invariably carry the capital L on their shields. It was indeed used as such in Ancient times, but only by the Spartans - the L stood for Lakedaimonia, the homeland of the Spartans. This trope ensues when even the Realism mod of Rome: Total War has Athenians carrying this mark, when Athenians, and for that matter Thebans, Argives, Megarians and citizens of nearly a thousand other states would never be caught dead carrying their mortal enemy's emblem on their shields. For their part, most other Greek states did not have consistent shield designs, the design being generally personal to the bearer (although often inherited father-to-son) because hoplites paid for their own arms and armor, including the shield, in most states; Sparta's consistent design is because they were armed at the expense of the state.
  • Medieval heraldry didn't really kick off until the 12th century, as a consequence of the Crusades. However, it is both a very convenient and visually appealing guide to identify factions, so its appearance is given in films, TV, and videogames even if they are set a few centuries too early (and Medieval people clearly thought the same, because they retroactively assigned heraldry to past rulers and kingdoms).
    • In Pope Joan, the Carolingian Emperor Lothair I uses the red Oriflamme as insignia, and his enemy Charles the Bald the fleur-de-lis on blue. Both were used by the Kings of France centuries later: the fleur-de-lis as the King's personal insignia, and Oriflamme as a sign to Leave No Survivors.
  • In the same vein, military uniforms were not really in use in Medieval Europe and only became a thing between the 16th and 17th centuries, about the same time conscription and true national armies came to be. But movie battles would be a mess if they were not Color-Coded for Your Convenience.

    Real Life 
  • Those Wacky Nazis appropriating swastikas. The swastika, previous to encounters with India and Buddhism, was already a very popular symbol in the West. It was commonly associated with, among other things, Thor, the god of thunder. In fact, the swastika is so ubiquitous in world cultures that some, including Carl Sagan, theorized that it was, in fact, based off the image of a comet seen straight on. Others have hypothesized that it represents the sun. The Nazis made the mistake of assuming it to be an Aryan symbol above all else, and proved a connection between the mythic white Aryans (real Aryans, AKA proto-Indo-Europeans, almost certainly weren't blonde-haired, blue eyed Nordics, and resembled North Indians or Iraniansnote ) and the Scandinavian cultures they admired.
  • FIFA thought it would be a great idea to release a football bearing the flags of the countries that had qualified for the 2002 World Cup. And it would have, if one of those countries wasn't Saudi Arabia, which has the 'Shahada'—the fundamental Islamic declaration of faith ("There is no god but God and Muhammad is His prophet")—sewn into it, taken straight from the Quran. Add to that that hitting something with your shoes or feet is a supreme insult in Middle Eastern culture and you can figure where this is going.
    • Even setting aside the specifics of Arab culture, one must admit that kicking around a copy of anyone's most holy images would offend them.Important note 
    • The South Korean organizers also ran into trouble when they painted the flags on a hall's ground, ensuring that visitors would step on them.
    • And ISAF then went and made the same football mistake in Afghanistan.
  • Some coins made in Britain during the Dark Ages like those of Offa of Mercia have (crude) Arab inscriptions reading "there is no God but Allah" or claiming to have been struck in Damascus a number of years after the Hegira. It is believed that the engravers just copied contemporary Abassid gold dinars and mistook the writing for decoration.
    • Later on, the Arabic Kufic script became decorative for Muslims in its own right (due to various Sunni bans on representing human and animal figures for considering them a slippery slope to idolatry). Christian Europeans followed by creating the purely decorative Pseudo-Kufic. It was particularly popular in depictions of Biblical passages, as it was wrongly believed that the Arabic script had been used in the Holy Land during the life of Jesus.
  • Often seen in tattoos or posters of a Yin-Yang symbol with a tiger and Chinese dragon battling it out. Chances are, the dragon will be in the black part of the symbol, while the tiger will be in the white part, likely to match their colors (the tiger will always be a white tiger, in this case). This would be a mistake in Taoist philosophies, as this is quite backwards; while the tiger and dragon do indeed represent Yin and Yang, they do so respectively. The tiger represents Yin (the black area), while the dragon represents Yang (the white area). Likely, the mix-up comes from Western views of dragons as evil creatures, automatically placing it in the "dark" side of the symbol, while the strong and noble white tiger is placed in the "good" side. Just remember this handy rule of thumb to keep them straight: the tiger waits in the darkness to strike at its prey, while the dragon charges forth brashly into the light of the sky. Additionally, Dark Is Not Evil and Light Is Not Good. Yin-Yang is not about Good vs. Evil, but about achieving balance between two opposing and complimentary forces. Birth (dark) must be balanced by death (light), or else populations would either explode or wither away. Masculinity (light) is balanced by femininity (dark).
  • As part of a 2000 report on the Basque Country, an Italian newspaper published a photo of a traditional aurresku dancer during the inauguration act of the Basque regional government and identified it as "martial arts practice in the Guardia Civil barracks".
  • The real Fallas ran into trouble in 2013 when one participant made one that included depictions of two Hindu gods, Shiva and Ganesh. Following protests from the Hindu community, the ruling council made the author take out the figure of Shiva, which was donated to a Hindu temple, and the crown and extra arms of Ganesh, thus turning it into a common elephant, before the structure was burned down.
  • The Urban Legend of a smiling, crucified Santa Claus in Japan. For that matter, the general, and very real attempts described in the previous link to market Christmas, St Valentine's, St Patrick's, and Halloween for the Japanese market, all of which have virtually no similarity to their Western versions.
  • Cults are these by default, given their rejection of or additions to their own doctrines of their base religions. If the leader claims to be Jesus reincarnated or something similar (Hong Xiuquan, Father Divine, Shoko Asahara, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite just to name a few), the resulting cosmology is guaranteed to be bizarre.
  • Curious case with the Shahada, whose symbolism is often understood by Muslims but not outsiders. As mentioned above, the Shahada is merely one of the main creeds of Islam and is used in many countries' flags, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and the Somaliland region of Somalia. It was also a useful shorthand for a lot of insurgent groups with Islamist agendas to differentiate themselves from the secular, Arab Nationalist governments of the mid-20th century. As these groups turned towards Jihadism, the Shahada was increasingly associated with groups such of al-Qaeda. This has resulted with many outside observers seeing the Shahada and immediately assuming Jihadist affiliations.
    • This is exacerbated by many opponents of Jihadist groups (such as the regional governments they oppose) deliberately conflating Shahada flags with Jihadism to take advantage of the ignorance of outsiders on the matter.
    • Something similar happened with the "Seal of Prophet Muhammad" which was adopted by ISIS. Despite being a symbol of over a thousand years old, anyone seeing it today will assume it is an ISIS flag.
  • The "star and crescent" symbol is thought by many people to be a symbol of Islam, but it has no connection to ancient Islamic tradition. It started off as a symbol of the city of Constantinople, and became a symbol of the Ottoman Empire once they took over the city. With the Ottoman Empire being the most prominent Islamic power in the world for many years, their national symbol became adopted by many Islamic nations and groups (especially those within Ottoman territory), and it coincidentally lined up with how Eid al-Fitr, the most prominent Muslim holiday, starts on a crescent moon.
  • In Christianity, the inverted Latin Cross is called the Petrine Cross because, according to tradition, St. Peter requested to be crucified on one due to feeling unworthy of dying in the same way as Christ, having denied Him three times. It is thus used as a symbol of St. Peter, Christian humility, and the Papacy. However, in The '70s it was appropriated by Death Metal bands as a Satanic and anti-Christian symbol, and the movies and Satanic Panic of The '80s codified it as one. Nowadays, even the average lay Catholic has the inverted cross for a symbol of Satan.
  • It is unknown to what extent Saddam Hussein's infamous Blood Quran was a case of this or intentionally provocative; either way what Saddam claimed to be a symbol of devotion from him (donating his blood as ink for a copy of the Quran) is deeply insulting to the Muslim community and was condemned by most religious authorities. It also creates a Morton's Fork as the copy's continued existence is an insult, but destroying it would be equally forbidden. The current consensus appears to be to Take a Third Option by sealing it away forever and forgetting it ever existed.

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