Saturday, November 22, 2008

And I Replied: That is so Cool.

Learning all the time. Esteemed colleague/scholar/all-around-good-Josephine Susana Kaiser sent me information regarding a Fall 2009 course to plug into the schedule, and my reply corrected what I assumed was a typo, to which she replied:

The course is Latin@s in the US Media. (the Spanish speaking people started using "@" to mean both "a" and "o" as Spanish is such a machista language that when ever going plural adopts the masculino version ("o") even if there is only one male in a group of 50 females). The university even approved the use for the course name.

This delights me several ways, not least of which is seeing an underused and elegantly shaped linguistic symbol come into its own.

But, like a late-night TV ad, I will now say: Wait. That's not all.

I google for the name of our little friend, The Divine Miss @, striving as so many journalists do for at least a patina of intellectual rigor, and I find this in the Guardian, which I steal in toto:


Does the symbol @ have a name? If not, any suggestions?
  • IN ISRAEL the @ symbol is often referred to as "strudel". Computer books often refer to @ as the "at sign". Anyone who ever made or cut a strudel would agree th@ "strudel" is @ least as appropri@e a name as "at sign".
    Roy Sage ( ,
  • IN DUTCH it is called apestaart , which means "monkey's tail". Because it looks like a monkey with his tail curled over him.
    Martin Southwold ( ,
  • SURELY it's an "ampersat"?
    Nyk Tarr, Rochdale, Lancs.
  • IN ENGLISH, the symbol is boringly known as "commercial at", but other languages offer more imaginative names. In Swedish, it is called snabel-a , ("a" with an elephant's trunk), or kanelbulle , the Swedish equivalent of the Chelsea bun. In German it is called Klammerraffe , (a clinging monkey) - presumably hanging from a tree by one arm.
    Dr Gunnel Clark, Wotton-under-Edge, Glos.
  • IN GREEK, it's called a little duck and in Russian a dog. Since animals seem to predominate, could I suggest the British term should be a mad cow rampant?
    (Professor) Richard Macrory, Tackley, Oxford.
  • IT IS called an "atmark". Its use in internet addresses has led to the production of a computer intended for accessing the World Wide Web called the Atmark computer.
    Kit Barritt ( ,
  • THE OFFICIAL name is the "at" sign, from the same school of typographer's gobbledegook which gave us "octothorpe" (the #). This naming predates the use of @ by electronic mail systems the world over, and sadly produces many ambiguities when mail addresses are dictated over the phone. If pilots and the police can have special terminologies for clear communication, then I would like to propose an easy, relevant and linguistically distinguishable subtitute for the confusing 'at' naming. The name for @ should be "nerd". This makes my email address, read over the phone, into "cassidys nerd cix dot compulink dot co dot uck".
    Steve Cassidy (normally in London EC2 but presently bored in Stuttgart) ,
  • IN BRAZIL the symbol is known as arroba , which is also an old measure of 15 kilos.
    Michael Wrigley, Campinas, Brazil.
  • IN ITALIAN the symbol is known as a chiocciola (snail).
    Geoffrey Allen, Pavia, Italy.
  • IN FINLAND it's known as a mouse's tail.
    Stephen Ryan, Dublin (
  • I heard someone on Radio 4 refer to it as an "e-snail" which I thought was nice.
    Chris Winchester, London
  • In Hungary, the @ symbol is called "kukatsz", which means little worm.
    Chris Dalton, Budapest, Hungary
  • The Norwegian call the @ "kroellalfa",meaning curled a.
    S William Ingebrigtsen, Bergen, Norway
  • In Italian we call it "chiocciolina", which means "small snail". "Chiocciola", as Geoffrey from Pavia suggests above, is much less used.
    Luca De Piano, Milan, Italy
  • I've always understood that @ originally meant "account" and was regularly used in banking. I seem to remember that it appeared on cheques at one time. It seems a more likely explanation than "at". After all, why would anyone want to abbreviate a two letter word?
    Keith Mills, Alne, York UK
  • @ abbreviates more than just two letters. I remember it on signs in shop windows when I was a child in the early 60s e.g. Cabbages @ 3d, and on similarly on bills. It saves you writing 'at' and 'each'.
    Anne Lane, Greenwich
  • In Czech, it is called "zavinac" which means a rolled pickled herring.
    Mojmir Pribina, Velka, Moravia
  • I have heard it called "petit escargot" ("little snail") in France.
    Katherine Ellis, London
  • I've always known it to be called the "short at".
    Henry Wolny, London
  • The French have a word for it: arobasse. I can't find it in the dictionary but it does seem to have gained widespread acceptance. Quite an achievement in a country where hardly anyone knows (or cares about) the word for "ampersand".
    Rudiger Scheister, Paris
  • In Spain, we call it "arroba", which also is a measurement of weight, but I can't see the conection. ( 1 arroba = 15 kilos )
    Maria, Toledo, Spain
  • We Catalans call the symbol "arrova" from "rova" meaning 1/4 (25%), originally a weight measure, as in Spanish. Looking at most email addresses (my own, for instance, it´s certainly 1 out of 4 items!) Relationship with weight? Not sure... but I personally find it heavy going to find the right key to type it.
    Joan Diez, Amposta, Catalonia
  • How about calling it "letter a with a curly tail"? Do I win a fiver?
    Charlie Peterson, York
  • At
    David Burnfield, Sydney, Australia
  • Most people from Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries answered that the name given to @ is "arroba" (and similars, like "arova"), the same name of a old weight measure unit. However, many people seem to ignore the history of this incidental coincidence: when the first typewriters started to be exported abroad US and UK, the key to @ had to be given a name. Since the @ was no known or used for anything on those countries, and since the current weight measure unit, the "arroba" (approximately 14 kilos) had by the time no symbol related to it, the Typewriter manufacturers and importers decided to call it arroba. Thus, for this simple and arbitrary decision, people from many countries started to call @ "arroba".
    Rodrigo Rey, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • In Finland, apparently, it is called miukumauku because it looks like a sleeping cat.
    Andrew, Norwich UK
  • In my country we call it the "cha-cha". Historically this dates back to when dancers used to put character "a" on their back when dancing in competitions. To highlight the "a" it was put in a circle.
    Jose Luis, London England
  • In POLAND the @ sign is called a "monkey"
    peter gentle, warsaw poland
  • In Denmark we call it "snabel-a", snabel meaning the trunk of an elephant
    Stine Pedersen, Skanderborg Denmark
  • Small "a" in circle @ Please can any one let me know what this sign called ~ ? my E-mail address is thank you.
    Ab, Chicago U.S.A
  • In Jamaica it's known as the block, the swirl depicting the feeling of nausia and dizziness having spent far too much time passing the rizla and herb. Derived from the term 'block-up' or in plain English, stoned.
    Josiah Mackintosh, Port Antonio Jamaica
  • It's the AT symbol and leave it @ that! :-)
    Kat, California, USA
  • In Russian, the @ symbol is often called "sabachka", which means puppy.
    Georgeta Solomitskaya-Lester, Cleveland, USA
  • A local game show here said that the official name of the at-sign is "amphora" taken from the name of a jar they used in the ancient medterranean to measure volume of things they would trade (where the @ symbol was supposedly first used).
    Tina, Manila, Philippines
  • Printers on this side of the pond referred to it as a "commercial at," just as the ampersand was a "commercial and."
    Howard Wolff, West Orange, NJ, USA
  • In Japan it's called the atomaaku.
    Mike O'Connell, Sapporo, Japan
  • If it wasn't just the "at" symbol I'm sure somebody would have told us by now. My favourite from the foreign versions is the Czech one meaning a rolled pickled herring. Perhaps we could latch onto that one and call it a "rollmop".
    John Kemplen, Leighton Buzzard, England, UK
  • In American computer science, it is universally referred to as the "at sign", or "at" when reading out a sequence of characters or an email address. In Chinese, it's called a mouse (shu), confusingly enough.
    Ethan Bradford, US
  • I think it would be nice to call it a Titfer. @ = TITFER) As any cockney Londoner will tell you, a Titfer is an "At" in Cockney Rhyming Slang. Londoners usually drop their aitches and "At" stands for Hat i.e. Hat = Titfer Tat!
    Leslie Nicholass, Colchester, England
  • The "~" (which somebody wanted to know the name of) is known as a tilde.
    Rod Fielding, Bury, UK
  • Andrew from Norwich is right: in Finland @-sing is called (colloquially) miuku-mauku, or, alternatively, miumau, which actually referres to the sound that a cat makes (miaow) and @ thus symbolizes the figure of a cat curled up. Officially it is called ät-merkki (at sign).
    Marjut, Helsinki, Finland
  • I call it a squiggle, because it is! A swirl, wiggle of a pen and scribble all in one word. Maybe someone was twirling their pen in circles whilst thinking what to write!
    Paul Coleman, Oxford, UK
  • I agree with what said before: @ means "at £ each" and the fact that we have started using in email addresses does not mean that its name as "commercial at" should be discarded, but for ease and speed of conversation in everyday exchange of email addresses we perhaps should adopt the grammatically correct version of "ampersat" which, from the semantic point of view, means "instead of (at)".
    Roberta, London london
  • Growing up while in grammar school; 1960's; my teacher told us it was an abbreviation for "at each" (for)...such as 5@1.00 or 5 for 1.00. Made sense then and still does today!
    Jay, Atlanta USA
  • @ is an arobasse in French, and it is in the dictionary.
    alan cowling, Nevez France
  • The french word is arobase. Some are confusing the sign @ with ampersand which is not correct - ampersand is the & sign
    Marilyn, Mauritius
  • Marilyn is right. I CONFUSED THE @ symbol with the ampersand symbol (&). I suppose the @ symbol is at especially in Email addresses.
    Kelly, Orlando Florida usa
  • First description of symbol @ is dated century IV, detailing how many "arroba" (weight measurement about 25 pounds) of a freight by seaway from Seville to Rome.
    Victor, Alsasua, Spain
  • There's an awful lot of opinion on this subject floating about, but nobody seems to be citing any references. The best I can find anywhere online is at Wikipedia (but it's Wikipedia so take it with a pinch of salt!). According to whoever wrote the article, it's formal name is "commercial at".
    Rawlyn, UK
  • Of course the symbol @ has a name ... it is alison taylor.
    Alison Taylor, Moultrie, US
  • In Hungary we call it "kukac" that means in english "worm" :)
    Peter Máté, Budapest Hungary
  • It is ASCII Code 64. Common names: at sign, strudel, rare, each, vortex, whorl, intercal, whirlpool, cyclone, snail, ape, cat, rose, cabbage, amphora. It also is used in email addresses. Ray Tomlinson was designing the first email program. It is derived from the latin preposition "ad" (at). It has been traced back to the Italian Renaissance in a Roman merchantile document signed by Francesco Lapi on 1536-05-04. In Dutch it is apestaartje (little tail), in German affenschwanz (ape tail). The French name is arobase. In Spain and Portugal it denotes a weight of about 25 pounds called arroba and the Italians call it chiocciola (snail). commercial at. (n.d.). This information is from The Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from website: at
    Tamera, Layton USA
  • I think the @ symbol means "at the rate of" hence 3 pencils @ of 10 cents would be 30 cents. Yes, @ means "at the rate of".
    Jim York, West Monroe, La. USA
  • The @ symbol is correctly referred to as an asperand. My nemonic is: ASP erand.
    Stuart Lawrence, Oxford UK
  • & Ampersand @ Aspersand
    Charon, Manchester England
  • In Chinese, we call it a little mouse.
    Kat Fan, Austin, Texas
  • Never mind what foreigners call it, to we Brits it's simply 'at', although its use for any other purpose than to punctuate an e-mail address or to indicate per-unit pricing is the mark of laziness or of a foolish desire to seem 'modern'.
    Pete Wigens, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK
  • An even more perverse use of the symbol is contained in a leaflet published by Stroud District Council, in which we are asked to 'Sign up for free email @lerts'. Aaaaargh!
    Pete Wigens, Stroud, UK

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