@ Sign Now in The Museum of Modern Art

This week MoMA acquired the @ sign.

What belongs to everyone and to no one — the @ sign — is now an art object.

I think this is one mutty symbol:

  • It started in merchant history long ago.
  • Ended up on typewriter and computer keyboards.
  • Is indispensable, across the globe, for our daily communication, and.
  • Now it’s in a first class museum.

Interesting history: @ appeared in 1885 on the keyboard (American Underwood typewriter.) But it goes back to Portugal, in 6th or 7th century trade. Curious!

Its journey into present day is sort of sketchy, and linguists are divided as to when the symbol first appeared.

Didn’t anyone ever think to ask it’s neighbor to the left, the 1/! key? Or the 3/#? Why not ask the 2, right below?

The scholars, though, argue that the symbol dates back to the 6th or 7th centuries when Latin scribes adapted the symbol from the Latin word ad, meaning at, to  or toward. The scribes, in an attempt to simplify the amount of pen strokes they were using, created the ligature (combination of two or more letters) by exaggerating the upstroke of the letter “d” and curving it to the left over the “a.”

Others suggest that the @ sign is a more recent and appeared sometime in the 18th century where it was used as a symbol in commerce to indicate price per unit.

“One chickens @ 5 pence.” (Does everything always boil down to money?)

In the English language, we call @ the “at sign” but other countries have different names for the symbol. Many other countries connect the symbol with either food or animal names.

(Source: Wikipedia)

  • Afrikaans: In South Africa, it is called aapstert, meaning “monkey’s tail”
  • Arabic: The @ symbol does not appear on Arabic keyboards, only keyboards in both Arabic and English. The Arabic word for @ is fi, the Arabic translation of at
  • Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian: In these countries, it is referred to as the “Crazy I”
  • Cantonese: In Hong Kong it is generally referred to as “the at sign,” just as in England and America
  • Catalan: In Catalonia, it is called arrova, a unit of weight
  • Czech: In the Czech Republic, it is called zavinac, meaning “rollmop,” or “pickled herring”
  • Danish: It is called alfa-tegn, meaning “alpha-sign” or snabel-a, meaning “elephant’s trunk” or grisehale, meaning “pig’s tail”
  • Dutch: Since English is prominent in the Netherlands, the English “at” is commonly used. However, the Dutch also call it apestaart, meaning monkey’s tail,” apestaartje, meaning “little monkey’s tail” or slingeraap, meaning “swinging monkey”
  • French: In France, it is called arobase the name of the symbol. It is also referred to as un a commercial, meaning “business a”, a enroule, meaning “coiled a”, and sometimes escargot, meaning “snail” or petit escargot, meaning “little snail”
  • German: In Germany, it is called Affenschwanz, meaning “monkey’s tail” or Klammeraffe, meaning “hanging monkey”
  • Greek: In Greece, it is called papaki, meaning “little duck”
  • Hebrew: It is shablul or shablool, meaning “snail” or a shtrudl, meaning “strudel”
  • Hungarian: In Hungary, it is called a kukac, meaning “worm” or “maggot”
  • Italian: In Italy it is called chiocciola, meaning “snail” and a commerciale, meaning “business a”
  • Japanese: In Japan, it is called atto maaku, meaning “at mark”
  • Mandarin Chinese: In Taiwan it is called xiao lao-shu, meaning “little mouse,” lao shu-hao, meaning “mouse sign,” at-hao, meaning “at sign” or lao shu-hao, meaning “mouse sign”
  • Norwegian: In Norway, it is called either grisehale, meaning “pig’s tail” or kro/llalfa, meaning “curly alpha.” In academia, the English term “at” is widely used
  • Polish: In Poland, it is called malpa, meaning “monkey.” It is also called kotek, meaning “little cat” and ucho s’wini, meaning “pig’s ear”
  • Portuguese: In Portugal it is called arroba, a unit of weight
  • Romanian: In Romania, it is called la, a direct translation of English “at”
  • Russian: Russians officially call it a kommercheskoe, meaning “commercial a”, but it is usually called sobachka, meaning “little dog”
  • Spanish: Like in Portugal, in Spain it is called arroba, a unit of weight
  • Swedish: The official term in Sweden is snabel-a, meaning “trunk-a,” or “a with an elephant’s trunk”
  • Thai: There is no official word for it in Thai, but it is often called ai tua yiukyiu, meaning “the wiggling worm-like character”
  • Turkish: In Turkey, most e-mailers call it kulak, meaning “ear”

Who knows other names for the @ sign? Please post here!

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