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Ticker Symbol

A three- or four-letter abbreviation used to identify a security, whether on the floor, a TV screen, or a newspaper page. Ticker symbols are part of the lore of Wall Street. They were originally developed in the 1800s by telegraph operators to save bandwidth. One-letter symbols were therefore assigned to the most active stocks. Railroads were the dominant issues at the time, so they retain a majority of the one-letter designations. Ticker symbols today are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Each marketplace—the NYSE, the AMEX, and others—allocates symbols for companies within its purview, working closely to avoid duplication. A symbol used for one company cannot be used for any other, even in a different marketplace.