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Where did the @ sign originate?

The At Sign

In 1972, Ray Tomlinson sent the first electronic message, now known as e-mail, using the @ symbol to indicate the location or institution of the e-mail recipient. Tomlinson, using a Model 33 Teletype device, understood that he needed to use a symbol that would not appear in anyone's name so that there was no confusion. The logical choice for Tomlinson was the "at sign," both because it was unlikely to appear in anyone's name and also because it represented the word "at," as in a particular user is sitting @ this specific computer.

However, before the symbol became a standard key on typewriter keyboards in the 1880s and a standard on QWERTY keyboards in the 1940s, the @ sign had a long if somewhat sketchy history of use throughout the world. Linguists are divided as to when the symbol first appeared. Some argue that the symbol dates back to the 6th or 7th centuries when Latin scribes adapted the symbol from the Latin word ad, meaning at, to or toward. The scribes, in an attempt to simplify the amount of pen strokes they were using, created the ligature (combination of two or more letters) by exaggerating the upstroke of the letter "d" and curving it to the left over the "a."

Linguists are divided. Some think it originated in the early Middle Ages, when monks laboring over manuscripts contracted the versatile Latin word "ad" - which can mean "at" or "towards" or "by" - into a single character. Most linguists, however, say that the @ sign is a more recent invention, appearing sometime during the 18th century as a commercial symbol indicating price per unit, as in "5 apples @ 10 pence." Yet another linguist, researcher Denis Muzerelle, says the sign is the result of a different twist, when the accent over the word "&#224" used by French and German merchants was hastily extended.

But last July an Italian researcher discovered some 14th-century Venetian commercial documents clearly marked by the @ sign, where it was used to represent a gauge of quantity, the "anfora," or jar. Giorgio Stabile also found a Latin-Spanish dictionary dating from 1492 where "anfora" is translated into "arroba," a measure of weight. It's therefore natural that, in 1885 the "commercial a" was included on the keyboard of the first model of Underwood typewriter and from there migrated into the standard set of computing characters (such as ASCII) 80 years later.

at sign 1674

Evidence of the usage of @ to signify French "à" (meaning "at")
from a 1674 protocol from a Swedish lower court and magistrate
(Arboga rådhusrätt och magistrat)

The biggest problem with the @ sign nowadays is what to call it. Spaniards and Portuguese still use "arroba" -- which the French have borrowed and turned into "arobase." Americans and Britons call it the "at-sign." So do the Germans ("at-Zeichen"), Estonians ("&#228t-m&#228rk") and Japanese ("atto maak"). However, in most languages the sign is described using a wide spectrum of metaphors lifted from daily life. References to animals are the most common. Germans, Dutch, Finns, Hungarians, Poles and South Africans see it as a monkey tail. The snail - oddly enough for the anti-snail-mail set - portrays the @ sign not only in French ("petit escargot") and Italian ("chiocciola"), but also in Korean and Esperanto ("heliko"). Danes and Swedes call it "snabel-a" - the "a" with an elephant's trunk; Hungarians a worm; Norwegians a pig's tail; Chinese a little mouse; and Russians a dog. Food offers other tantalizing metaphors. Swedes have borrowed the cinnamon bun ("kanelbulle"). Czechs have been inspired by the rolled pickled herring ("zavinac") commonly eaten in Prague's pubs. Spaniards sometimes call it "ensaimada," which is a sort of sweet, spiral-shaped bagel typically made in Majorca. Hebrew speakers use "shtrudl" (or "strudel"), as in the well-known roll-shaped pastry. My favorite, though, is the Finnish "miukumauku" - the "sign of the meow"- inspired by a curled-up, sleeping cat.

While in the English language, @ is referred to as the "at sign," other countries have different
names for the symbol that is now so commonly used in e-mail transmissions throughout the
world. Many of these countries associate the symbol with either food or animal names.

Afrikaans - In South Africa, it is called aapstert, meaning "monkey's tail"
Arabic - The Arabic word for @ is fi, the Arabic translation of at
Cantonese - In Hong Kong it is generally referred to as "the at sign."
Catalan - In Catalonia, it is called arrova, a unit of weight
Czech - In the Czech Republic, it is called zavinac, meaning "rollmop," or "pickled herring"
Danish - It is called alfa-tegn, meaning "alpha-sign" or grisehale, meaning "pig's tail"
Dutch - The Dutch say apestaart, "monkey's tail," or slingeraap, "swinging monkey"
French - In France, it is called arobase the symbol's name, and escargot, meaning "snail"
German - In Germany, it is called Affenschwanz, meaning "monkey's tail"
Greek - In Greece, it is called papaki, meaning "little duck"
Hebrew - It is shablul or shablool, meaning "snail" or a shtrudl, meaning "strudel"
Hungarian - In Hungary, it is called a kukac, meaning "worm" or "maggot"
Italian - In Italy it is called chiocciola, meaning "snail"
Japanese - In Japan, it is called atto maaku, meaning "at mark"
Mandarin Chinese - In China it is called xiao lao-shu, meaning "little mouse"
Norwegian - In Norway, it is called grisehale, "pig's tail" or kro/llalfa, "curly alpha."
Polish - In Poland, it is called malpa, meaning "monkey," and kotek, meaning "little cat"
Portuguese - In Portugal it is called arroba, a unit of weight
Romanian - In Romania, it is called la, a direct translation of English "at"
Russian - Russians usually call it sobachka, meaning "little dog"
Spanish -- Like in Portugal, in Spain it is called arroba, a unit of weight
Swedish - The official term in Sweden is snabel-a, meaning "a with an elephant's trunk"
Thai - In Thai it is often called ai tua yiukyiu, meaning "the wiggling worm-like character"
Turkish - In Turkey, most e-mailers call it kulak, meaning "ear"

~From www.webopedia.com

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