English words for @

Thomas Paikeday t.paikeday at SYMPATICO.CA
Thu Jun 29 01:54:23 UTC 2000

Another competitor on the "clitoris" thread.

I believe "the at symbol" would be the enduring name for it. I am reminded of "the number sign" [#] which at  one time was called "the octothorpe,"
by Ma Bell I think, but it apparently didn't take.

Laurence Horn wrote:

> At 11:43 AM -0400 6/27/00, Paul McFedries wrote:
> >I know I'm competing with the "clitoris" thread on this one, but I've heard
> >various English words used for the @ symbol, including the following:
> >
> >at
> >snail
> >strudel
> >vortex
> >whorl
> >
> >Does anybody know of any others? I tried searching the archives, but
> >received the following error:
> >
> >The requested method POST is not allowed for the URL
> >/excite/AT-adslsearch.cgi.
> >
> >Thanks a bunch.
> >
> >Paul
> >
> Here's Michael Quinion's posting on the subject;sorry for the formating. (Note the alleged popularity of "whirlpool" in this and the other summaries.) The main Linguist List summary on the topic can be found in the archives at the following two references:
> LINGUIST List: Vol-7-968. Tue Jul 2 1996. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines: 1387
> Subject: 7.968, Sum: The @ symbol
> LINGUIST List: Vol-7-1177. Tue Aug 20 1996. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines: 176
> Sum: The @ sign: addendum
> Quinion's World Wide Words column, 4/27/00:
> Names for a common symbol
> The @ symbol has been a central part of the Internet and its forerunners ever since it was chosen to be a
> separator in e-mail addresses by Ray Tomlinson in 1972. From puzzled comments which surface from
> time to time in various newsgroups, it appears the biggest problem for many Net users is deciding what to
> call it. This is perhaps unsurprising, as outside the narrow limits of bookkeeping, invoicing and related
> areas few people use it regularly. Even fewer ever have to find a name for it, so it is just noted mentally as
> something like "that letter a with the curly line round it".
> It use in business actually goes back to late medieval times. It was originally a contraction for the Latin
> word ad, meaning "to, toward, at" and was used in accounts or invoices to introduce the price of
> something ("3 yds of lace for my lady @ 1/4d a yard"). In cursive writing, the upright stroke of the 'd'
> curved over to the left and extended around the 'a'; eventually the lower part fused with the 'a' to form one
> symbol. Even after Latin ceased to be commonly understood, the symbol remained in use with the
> equivalent English sense of at. Because business employed it, it was put on typewriter keyboards from
> about 1880 onwards, though it is very noticeable that the designers of several of the early machines didn't
> think it important enough to include it (neither the Sholes keyboard of 1873 nor the early Caligraph one
> had it, giving preference to the ampersand instead), and was carried over to the standard computer character
> sets of EBCDIC and ASCII in the sixties. From there, it has spread out across the networked world,
> perforce even into language groups such as Arabic, Tamil or Japanese which do not use the Roman
> alphabet.
> A discussion on the LINGUIST discussion list about names for @ in various languages produced an
> enormous response, from which most of the facts which follow are drawn. Some have just transliterated
> the English name 'at' or 'commercial at' into the local language. What is interesting is that nearly all the
> languages cited have developed colloquial names for it which have food or animal references.
> In German, it is frequently called Klammeraffe, 'spider monkey' (you can imagine the monkey's tail),
> though this word also has a figurative sense very similar to that of the English 'leech' ("He grips like a
> leech"). Danish has grisehale, 'pig's tail' (as does Norwegian), but more commonly calls it snabel a, 'a
> (with an) elephant's trunk', as does Swedish, where it is the name recommended by the Swedish Language
> Board. Dutch has apestaart or apestaartje, '(little) monkey's tail' (the 'je' is a diminutive); this turns up
> in Friesian as apesturtsje and in Swedish and Finnish in the form apinanhanta. Finnish also has
> kissanhäntä, 'cat's tail' and, most wonderfully, miukumauku, 'the miaow sign'. In Hungarian it is kukac,
> 'worm; maggot', in Russian 'little dog', in Serbian majmun, 'monkey', with a similar term in Bulgarian.
> Both Spanish and Portuguese have arroba, which derives from a unit of weight. In Thai, the name
> transliterates as 'the wiggling worm-like character'. Czechs often call it zavinàc which is a rolled-up
> herring or rollmop; the most-used Hebrew term is strudel, from the famous Viennese rolled-up apple
> sweet. Another common Swedish name is kanelbulle, 'cinnamon bun', which is rolled up in a similar way.
> The most curious usage, because it seems to have spread furthest from its origins, whatever they are, is
> snail. The French have called it escargot for a long time (though more formal terms are arobase or a
> commercial), but the term is also common in Italian (chiocciola), and has recently appeared in Hebrew
> (shablul), Korean (dalphaengi) and Esperanto (heliko).
> In English the name of the sign seems to be most commonly given as at or, more fully, commercial at,
> which is the official name given to it in the international standard character sets. Other names include
> whirlpool (from its use in the joke computer language INTERCAL) and fetch (from FORTH), but these
> are much less common. A couple of the international names have come over into English: snail is fairly
> frequently used; more surprisingly, so is snabel from Danish.
> Even so, as far as English is concerned at is likely to remain the standard name for the symbol. But there
> is evidence that the sign itself is moving out from its Internet heartland to printed publications. Recently
> the British newspaper, the Guardian, began to advertise a bookselling service by post, whose title (not
> e-mail address) is "Books at The Guardian". Do I detect a trend?
> At least we shall have no problem finding a name for the symbol.
> References
> Beeching, Wilfred A Century of the Typewriter British Typewriter Museum Publishing, Bournemouth,
> England, 1990
> Chung, Karen S Linguist List, number 7.968, 2 July 1996. Available from
> http://www.emich.edu/~linguist/issues/html/7-968.html
> Hafner, Katie & Lyon, Matthew Where Wizards Stay Up Late: the Origins of the Internet Simon &
> Schuster, 1996

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