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A Symbol that Needs No Translation: the @ Sign


History of the @ Symbol

On typewriters, @ was a seldom used key, but throughout the years, this character has become one that symbolizes modern electronic communication across the globe. Did you know the first documented use of @ was in 1536, but was not really used again until 1971?

Over the years, the @ sign has been used for many specific purposes, but its importance was never fully understood until it became used in the information technology realm.


How the @ Sign Translates in Other Languages

In English, we know that this sign, @, means at, but what is it referred to in other languages? How would you translate it in other languages?

In Spanish, the @ is called an arroba and can be translated to signify abundance or excessiveness.


What about other languages besides Spanish?

The @ sign is known by the Italians as a snail while it is referred to as a monkey tail by the Dutch. In the universal language, the ‘@’ sign is also called as volvita A, meaning wrapped A. It is known in Hebrew asshalbul, also snail, while in Yiddish it is called a strudel. Animals are the most frequently mentioned when referring to the @ sign, like elephant’s trunk or pig’s tail in Danish, little mouse in Mandarin, worm in Hungarian, cat’s tail in Finnish, and little duck in the land of Parthenon. Other ways of referring to the @ sign are marinated herring and curry alpha in Czech, rose in Russian, and crazy A in Serbian.


The @ Sign as a Unit of Measurement?

The @ sign was widely used by European and Asian traders as a unit of measurement in the sixteenth century. It represented a quarter of a hundredweight. But today, thanks to email addresses and Twitter, aside from the hashtag symbol, @ is the star of the online world.

It has also been used in linking products with unit prices, which could further explain its presence on the keyboards of typewriters in the 19th Century in America, which was later used on the computer keyboard.


Modern Use of the @ Symbol

Until 1971, when a computer scientist named Ray Tomlinson used the @ sign, no one paid any attention to this symbol. On June 21, 1971, Tomlinson used the @ symbol to separate the domain name from the user name, successfully sending the world’s first email. After email and the Internet gained popularity into the 90s, the @ symbol started being used with social networks like Twitter, opening up a new chapter in the history of @ sign.

Ray Tomlinson has said he doesn’t remember what he wrote in the first email. What’s important, however, is that with that first email message, the nearly unknown @ sign was revived and rose to fame as the symbol for modern electronic communication no matter which language you speak.


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