What Do You Call the @ Symbol?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe ubiquitous @ symbol is commonly referred to as the “at sign.” Although many consider it to be a punctuation mark, it is not. Technically, it is a grammalogue or logogram that represents the phrase “at the rate of” introduced by merchants in Europe in the 1700s to indicate costs succinctly (eg, a pound of butter @ 4 pence). Incidentally, how the symbol originated is simply speculation, since there is no proof behind three theories. Perhaps the most likely is that @ is derived from the French “à” with an accent grave that eventually morphed in the symbol we recognize today. Over many centuries, the @ symbol made the jump from handwritten chalkboards to the typewriter in 1889; and it took until 1971 to make the leap to the digital world, when Raymond Tomlinson decided upon the @ symbol for email addresses.

One of the most interesting aspects of the @ symbol is that it functions as a sort of typographic Rorschach test. That is to say, it is perceived differently by different cultures. Where Americans see a lowercase “a” inside a circle, the Danish see a monkey’s tail, while the Swedish see a cinnamon bun, and so forth. Consequently, the @ symbol is known by various names across different countries:

Armenia: ishnik (puppy)

China: flowery A

Czechoslovakia: zavinac (rollmops)

Denmark: apestaart (monkey’s tail)

Germany: kammeraffe (spider monkey)

Hungary: kukac (little worm)

Israel: strudel

Italy: chiocciola (snail)

Netherlands: grisehale (pig’s tail) or snabel (elephant’s trunk)

Serbia: crazy A

Sweden: kanelbulle (cinnamon bun)

Taiwan: little mouse

United States: at sign

Vietnam: bent A or hooked A

Read related posts: The First Typewritten Book
Novels with the Most Exclamation Points

What is the Qwerty Keyboard?
Who is the Fastest Texter in the World?

For further reading: Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston

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