Sunday, August 26, 2007

What's this @

During a telephone conversation with a friend who doesn't use the internet, this question came up. What is the name of the @ symbol?

It is just called the at symbol was my reply.

Afterwards I decided to do some googling and came across this article

Michael Quinion writes on International English from a British viewpoint. It would seem that the original symbol was an amphora which was a unit of weight in medieval Italy and @ was a handwritten A embellished in typical Florentine style.

Use of it within internet email addresses has led to the symbol being imported into many different languages. Names mentioned in Quinion's article include
  • Klammeraffe (spider monkey in German)
  • grisehole (pig's tail in Danish)
  • snabel (elephant's tail in Swedish)
  • apestaart (monkey's tail in Dutch)
  • kukac (worm in Russian)
However, in English it would seem that its official name is indeed the at (or "commercial at") symbol.

Michael Quinion's site World Wide Words is an Aladin's cave of articles on all aspects of word usage. This lexicographer and word-lovers' site has been going since 1996 which is an eon in internet time. Now I've discovered it I shall be making regular visits.


  1. Good info - thanks


  2. In French we also use the word arrobase for which a similar explanation an be given. A unit of measure coming form the Arabian countries through Spain and Portugal. There's a good article on Wikipedia.

  3. I've often wondered.
    They don't have it in Spain.
    To write an e mail address you have to presss 3 keys at the same time.

  4. This is an interesting article about symbol „@“. In my country people used to read it „crazy A“ and there were those who read it like „monkey“, but today more and more people just call it “at”.

  5. Pre-Internet usage, I always read it like "at the rate of", as in 50 mangoes at the rate of one Frank per mango.

    I've bookmarked the W W Words site. Are you familiar with the Word Detective?

  6. Some people in Sweden call it a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun)!

  7. Oh, I love the cinnamon bun. I've just asked my siblings what it's called in Japanese, but I'm guessing "atto", as in "at", except, like Italian, we always end a word with a vowel.

    Way way way back when, from what I understand, we used to have these HUGE grid that acted as a keyboard, where you had to know where our two sets of alphabets and a few thousand Chinese Kanji/Hanji were, and you moved the locator to pick out each letter. Then we had these converted Japanese keyboards that looked like most Western Language keyboard, but with a few extra, and converted multiple inputs into one letter or word. Nowadays, it's all done on software, so I can use any old keyboard, and by pressing a few keys, I get most letters/words; the less often used characters still have to be imput(ed??) by entering the corresponding 3- or 4-digit codes, but one learns to say the same thing without using those codes. I guess that's how one's vocabulary diminishes rapidly, conversely. (Conversely? Inversely? Reverse-ly?)