One holistic thesis about symbols is that a symbol cannot exist singly, but only as apart of a symbol system. There is also the plausible view that symbol systems emerge gradually in an individual, in a group, and in a species. The problem is that symbol holism makes it hard to see how a symbol system can emerge gradually, at least if we are considering the emergence of a first symbol system. The only way it seems possible is if being a symbol can be a matter of degree, which is initially problematic. This article explains how being a cognitive symbol can be a matter of degree after all. The contrary intuition arises from the way a process of interpretation forces an all-or-nothing character on symbols, leaving room for underlying material to realize symbols to different degrees in a way that Daniel Dennett's work can help illuminate. Holism applies to symbols as interpreted, while gradualism applies to how the underlying material realizes symbols.