Mean, denote, signify, import are comparable when they mean to convey to the mind a definite idea or interpretation.
Not only words or phrases can be said to mean, denote, signify, or import something, but also whatever admits of interpretation or of being intellectually appraised (as a poem or an essay or an act of Congress, or the behavior of one person to another, or a set of circumstances).
These words are commonly employed without distinction, but precision in their use is often possible and desirable. In their general application mean is the most common; it is often more expressive or poignant than the others when used to connote not only interpretation but also evaluation or appraisal.
Denote, in its widest application, is distinguished from the others by its taking for its subject things that serve as outward marks or visible indications; signify, by its taking for its subject things of a symbolic or representative character.
Signify often suggests distinctiveness or importance.
Import frequently conveys an implication of carrying into the mind but it frequently comes close to signify. In their special use in reference to the interpretation of the content of a term, these words are not always distinguishable.
Mean, however, is capable of implying reference to the term’s full content, that is, to the idea or relation between ideas which it conveys to the mind and the suggestions which it evokes.
Signify can, as mean usually does not, suggest symbolic relationship between the term and the idea it conveys.
Denote (see also DENOTE 2 ) can imply a logical definition in which the idea named or expressed by a term is clearly marked out and its application or range of application accurately determined.
Import, used with less frequency in relation to terms, is precise in its implications. A term imports not what it denotes, or bears as a definition, but any or all of the implications involved in its interpretation.