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What do you call the @ symbol used in e-mail addresses?

From: Cool

That little "a" with a circle curling around it that is found in email addresses is most commonly referred to as the "at" symbol. Surprisingly though, there is no official, universal name for this sign. There are dozens of strange terms to describe the @ symbol. Several languages use words that associate the shape of the symbol with some type of animal.

For instance, some quirky names for the @ symbol include:

apenstaartje - Dutch for "monkey's tail"
snabel - Danish for "elephant's trunk"
kissanhnta - Finnish for "cat's tail"
klammeraffe - German for "hanging monkey"
papaki - Greek for "little duck"
kukac - Hungarian for "worm"
dalphaengi - Korean for "snail"
grisehale - Norwegian for "pig's tail"
sobachka - Russian for "little dog"

More on the symbology

Before it became the standard symbol for electronic mail, the @ symbol was used to represent the cost or weight of something. For instance, if you purchased 6 apples, you might write it as 6 apples @ $1.10 each.

With the introduction of e-mail came the popularity of the @ symbol. The @ symbol or the "at sign" separates a person's online user name from his mail server address. For instance, Its widespread use on the Internet made it necessary to put this symbol on keyboards in other countries that have never seen or used the symbol before. As a result, there is really no official name for this symbol.

The actual origin of the @ symbol remains an enigma.

@ History tells us that the @ symbol stemmed from the tired hands of the medieval monks. During the Middle Ages before the invention of printing presses, every letter of a word had to be painstakingly transcribed by hand for each copy of a published book. The monks that performed these long, tedious copying duties looked for ways to reduce the number of individual strokes per word for common words. Although the word "at" is quite short to begin with, it was a common enough word in texts and documents that medieval monks thought it would be quicker and easier to shorten the word "at" even more. As a result, the monks looped the "t" around the "a" and created it into a circle-eliminating two strokes of the pen.

Another story tells the @ symbol was used as an abbreviation for the word amphora. Amphora was the unit of measurement that determined the amount held by the large terra cotta jars that were used to ship grain, spices and wine. Giorgio Stabile, an Italian scholar, discovered the @ symbol in a letter written in 1536 by a Florentine trader named Francesco Lapi. It seems likely that some industrious trader saw the @ symbol in a book transcribed by monks using the symbol and appropriated it for use as the amphora abbreviation. This would also explain why it became common to use the symbol in relation to quantities of something.

A more scholarly approach

From Whence Comes The At Symbol @ ?
German to English translation
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A lowercase "a", with a curly cue running around it counterclockwise, the @, enjoying a career of worldwide proportions, is now powerfully settling into German consciousness as well. It has long been known to computer users. They simply hit Shift, 2 (the German keyboard equivalent: hit the Alt-Gr and Q) keys simultaneously) and it appears on the screen. Germans call it "Klammeraffe" (literally translated: clamp or clinging monkey), "Affenohr" (monkey ear), sometimes even "Affenschwanz" (monkey tail) or the meticulous say "at" sign. Zoologists wonder about this, because "Klammeraffen" (correctly known as spider monkeys from Africa) have been their area of expertise till now. The symbol "Klammeraffe" @ supposedly had its origin in the English "at". Supposedly, because our German encyclopedias and scholars still remain silent on the subject. The man-on-the-street with an interest in literature is also rather puzzeled by the new symbol.

The Juris Legal Data Bank of Saarbrücken in Germany inserts it as a paragraph symbol - it is obviously more popular internationally than the european legal symbol §. Anyone consulting the encyclopedias will be harshly disappointed. Even the Duden Computer Science Dictionary shines in its lack of knowledge on all keyword levels. Yet this sign has already become an integral part in periodical headlines and numerous word games also in Germany where it replaces the "a". Printers and typographers have long been acquainted with it. They must print business cards and criticize in surly manner the all too large upper and lower lengths of the @. Increasingly, people have their electronic mail (e-mail) codes noted on their cards.

@ The at sign, "Klammeraffe", separates the person from the machine for the Internet and e-mail alike: on the left the person, then the symbol @, then the domain serving the people. The "Affenohr" (monkey ear), occasionally still confused even by Americans with the commercial "and" (&), English "ampersand", became part of the e-mail address in a wondrous way - by the programmer and hacker Ray Tomlinson, who in 1972 was writing programs for electronic communication using the few nertworks which, at that time in America, were still very different from each other. They had asked him to come up with a system for electronic mail.

Tomlinson was searching for a way to clearly and unmistakably separate the name of the user from the machines' and domains' identities. He searched for a symbol, which would never appear in a person's name. So he scrutinized the keyboard, the one he himself was using, a "Model 33 Teletype". The symbol could not be a number or a letter. "I choose the @ symbol", he later said. The @, "Affenohr" (monkey ear), had an advantage because it signifies "at" and, therefore, complied with Tomlinson's requirements.

@ Tomlinson had no idea that he was paving the world with a new letter. Yet, many of his friends where appalled at his decision, because in computer systems of that time the "Klammeraffe" was the control character for deleting a line; now suddenly, the "line killing" character was shortening letters in an awkward manner. In April 1975, this problem too was solved by way of a new agreement on a standard letterhead. The @, at sign, could no longer murder lines, but rather spread harmlessly.

Anyone desiring to research the early origin of this fashionable symbol from America, which has so forcefully invaded our culture, has a hard nut to crack. A somewhat timely mention for Germany was only to be found in the fabulous book of letters by Kiermeier-Debré/Vogel (1995): By 1978 the old master of German typographers, Hermann Zapf of Frankfurt am Main , had already collected and published all relevant pictographs and type signals in "Zapf Dingbats". Two variations of the at sign "Klammeraffe" appear there. In the United States the symbol represents the number 64 of the American 7-bit standard code for data exchange, called ASCII, released by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in the early sixties.

Therefore, the "at" sign was already so well established in the USA, that it was allowed before the uppercase "a" on the code list. Our at sign "Klammeraffe" was not yet represented in the 5-bit code of the 19th century Frenchman, Emile Baudot (data speed "baud" was named for him). An excel lent connaisseur of Anglo-American culture assured, that the "at" sign @ was the counterpart of the French à with an accent grave: five apples at ten pennies, five apples à ten pennies. Merchants in England had supposedly written the @ on their price tags in this way for a long time. That's why the at sign "Klammeraffe" is called a "commercial a" in the English speaking world. As such, it was already found on the first American typewriters. It appears to have been at home in Sweden for an equally long time.

@ Much earlier still, the @ symbol appeared on the Iberian Peninsula; it is said to have been brought there for the first time in the year 1555. Spanish, Portuguese and then French merchants as well dealt in steers and wine, thereby using a measure for solids and liquids, "arroba", approximately 10 kilograms (25 libras) or about 15 litres. The word Ar-roub is of Arabic origin and means " a quarter". "Arroba, Arobas" was depicted with the at sign - "Klammeraffe", @ - and then identified and signified as Arroba. The name arroba for @ has been preserved in Spain and France ever since.

For Italia Fredrik Oestman announced me the @ glyph già in 1536 as Abbreviation for capital A. He found it in newspaper Repubblica : <> In German Amfora is "Amphore", antiker bauchiger Tonkrug mit 2 Henkeln, Content 5 to 50 Liters.

Anyone looking further back still, will encounter, after a huge void - computer freaks are noticeably no fans of history - and without fail the American handwriting researcher and paleographer Berthold Louis Ullman, who held the opinion in his book "Ancient Writing and its Influence" (1932, Reprint Cambridge 1969, Reprint Toronto 1980 [Z105.U4], that the "Klammeraffe" @ was supposedly a monastic ligature or abbreviation in Latin handwritings of the Middle Ages. Writers of that time had supposedly used it to abbreviate the Latin "ad" (at, to), a common word at that time, due to a lack of space or for convenience sake. But neither Ullman's book with any sort of evidence nor another veritable quotation with an at sign "Klammeraffe" from the Middle Ages was to be found.

The Swedish journalist Karl-Erik Tallmo reported on this matter in 1994 in Svenska Dagbladet: the @ symbol could, according to Ullman, have its origin in the 6th or 7th century: the circles around a and d are supposedly fused one into the other, with the upward stoke then drawn swinging to the left.

Indeed, abbreviations and ligatures only came about six hundred years later. The five Latin documents of the late Middle Ages, which were found in my private little library, foundation documents and the like, a coincidence test then, all had well written out "ad"s in many variations. But they were calligraphic, official documents. Incorrect reports are found in books on signs and symbols from all over the world as well. No @ sign in Middle Age.

In a book on letters by Carl Faulmann (1880), newly printed in Nürnberg by Greno (Delphi) 1985, several writings on the Middle Ages are found, including a detailed list of abbreviations and ligatures of that time. The at sign "Klammeraffe" is nowhere to be found there. Only an initial from the 9th century shows great similarity to the @, but this is an uppercase G.

A medievalist, professor, connoisseur of handwriting from Freiburg University in Germany, laughed derisively when asked about an "Affenohr" @ in Latin handwriting: "You cannot depict the Latin ad in this manner", he said, "I cannot play along here!" As suspected, no existence of the @ in the Middle Ages, and certainly not before.
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@ A presently overflowing source for international naming of the at sign " is the Internet. The American linguist Karen Steffen Chung, who resides in Taiwan, had asked about the name of the symbol in the native tongue of her addressees per e-mail. The list, which she publicized in the Internet, encompasses -- with addendum -- 40 languages including Esperanto, referred to her by 115 senders from many countries. Our @ set no limits for linguistic fantasy. An incredible document with over 1500 lines, downloadable from the Internet under the keywords LINGUIST and THE @ SYMBOL, or better yet, with the correct address an the addendum.

The new names reach from the Serbian "crazy a" to the poetic Turkish "rose". "Affenschwanz" (monkey tail) or nicer said - "schwänzchen" (little tail) as Netherlanders say, is what the Poles tersely call "Affe" (monkey), the same as Slovenians and Serbs, who also say monkey-like a. One Esperanto fan baptized it spider monkey, the Danes call the @ sow's tail, while the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes call it an elephant's trunk. The British, the French, the Israelis and the Koreans made a snail of it, which results in a curious contrast to "snail mail". The Mandarin Chinese call the @ little mouse, the Greeks duckling. The Finns and Swedes have conceived cat metaphors as well: cat's tail, cat's paw, Miuku mauku (Finnish for the cat's meow), and Poles call it kitten. The Russians in contrast always call the @ puppy (sobachka). The Spanish, Portuguese, Catalonians and French continue in the use of the old Arabic name for measure: ar(r)oba(s). Pastry has to sacrifice for the old Hebrew strudel, the Swedish cinnamon roll, maybe for the Polish pig's ear, a sweet pastry delight, in any case for the Russian round biscuit. Worm or maggot (Kukac) is what the Hungarians call the @, the Thais ringed worm. Strong in visual imagination the Norwegians: sow's tail and ringed alpha. Very witty are the British, who with a strong visual imagination quite simply call the @ laughter. A particularly original depiction comes from Chechen and out of Slovakia: pickled herring roll - a rather mysterious one out of South India; on Tamil the symbol is called Inaichuzhili. While explaining this word, the document broke off.
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@ After a portion of this view on the @ symbol had appeared in the ZEIT newspaper (March 7, 1997) under the headline "The flipped out ligature", readers illuminated the at sign "Affenohr" in yet other ways.

Michael Justin has found out, that in the Swedish language the symbol @ also means beaked-A". He writes further: "And in Thai it actually resembles the symbol for 1. Additionally, 1 is also pronounced 'et' - for eleven (sip-et), twenty-one (yi-sip-et), thirty-one (song-sip-et), etc. - Truth be known, language researchers have been able to trace numerous Thai and English words back to a common 'mother tongue' (Indo-European, approx. 5000 years old), out of which, for example, Sanskrit also developed (see Denis Seaguller, More Thai Ways, Asia Books)." To the Swedish "beaked A" Fredrik Oestman writes me: "This is incorrect. "Snabel" in Swedish does not mean the same as 'Schnabel' in German, id est 'beak', but '(elephant's) trunk'. So it's a trunk-a in Swedish, among other names".

@ The architect Volkmar Hepp of Frankfurt am Main presented a plate from a book by Peter Jessen, who in 1923 had reported on "Meister der Schreibkunst" (Master on the Art of Writing). This plate was a model for writing by the Venetian master writer Augustino, dating back to the year 1565. Here our "Affenohr" @ actually appears very precisely and identical in form. However, in this model for writing, it is merely shown as an artistic form of the lowercase a. Still, it shows: between the letters lowercase a and our at sign "Affenohr", @, there exists only a very small distance.

A historically interested lawyer, Dr. Raimund Weber of Heubach in Germany, brought forth a "Klammeraffe" @ with yet another meaning. In the records of the Reichskammergericht (Imperial Chamber Court) of the 18th century, the @ already exists with the meaning "contra" (versus): "Mayor @ Miller". The still earlier - Middle Aged - contra symbol came about from the abbreviated forms for CON and TRA; the symbol appears as a Greek lowercase Sigma. Virtually a reverse at sign "Affenohr" with a clockwise turn, namely to the right. Mysteriously, this symbol was changed to mean contra after The Thirty Years War - it was now written as a mirror image, turned counterclockwise to the left. It can be interpreted as C, which includes the a - C(ontr)a, a typical abbreviation. The ominous "Affenohr" @ then, is already contained in the records of the Reichskammergericht in Wetzlar (Germany) - with completely different meaning.

Accordingly, for our culture, it is not strange at all.








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