Contrary to what some people think, the @ symbol isn’t a product of the digital age. And it certainly wasn’t invented by Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email! The @ sign is actually very old. Tomlinson, however, made it popular by including it in the format of the email address.
The emergence of the symbol in language isn’t very clear and has been lost in time. After being incorporated in the email address and, thus, becoming popular, interest in finding the origins have revealed that the symbol has been in use for hundreds of years. Come to think of it, Ray Tomlinson actually saved the @ sign from extinction!
For centuries, businessmen in English speaking countries have employed the symbol to indicate “cost per unit”, as in “50 apples @ $10”, and that’s why it’s called “at”. But for other languages, the symbol was foreign and had to be assimilated because of its modern day usage in the email address. And people around the world have come up with interesting names for it.
Most names are based on the shape of the symbol – it looks like alphabet a’s tail has rolled up on itself, right? And obviously, we humans will bring in animal references. Here are some weird, creative and downright funny names of the “at” symbol from popular languages around the world.
It’s called zavinac which means “rollmops” – pickled herring fillets rolled over pickled gherkins or green olives.
Informal names are “elephant’s trunk” (snabel) or “pig’s tail” (grisehale).
One of the names is “little monkey’s testicle” (apeklootje).
Somehow the Finns have linked the symbol with cats – miau, miuku, miau merkki, kissanhnta (“cat’s tail”). They also call it “a monkey’s tail” (apinanhanta) and “mouse’s tail” (hiirenhanta).
The French call it arobase and, sometimes, escargot, since according to them, the symbol looks like the shell of a snail.
Trust the German’s to come up with longest words! The at-sign is Affenschwanz (monkey’s tail) in German.
Since the sign resembles something that is rolled up, it’s shablool (“snail”) or strudel (“strudel”).
They call it kukac which means “a small worm”.
Indonesian speakers keep it simple. It’s called the “uh” sign in the language.
It looks like a snail to them and that’s what they call it, dalphaengi.
The Italians too think of it as a snail chiocciola.
Malpa (monkey) is what they call it in Polish.
The elephant is carrying the alphabet ‘a’. In Swedish it’s snabel-a which means “a with a elephant’s trunk”.
It’s called kulak (ear). Some even call it ohr which is “ear” in German.
What do you call it in your language? Let us know.
End Notes: Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, didn’t create the @ sign. It was already on the 33 Teletype keyboard he used. The symbol was located on the letter ‘P’ and had to be accessed with the shift key.
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