Article published on March 15, 2007
Article published on March 15, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A squiggle cuddles softly around a curvy ‘a’ as though it wants to chivalrously protect it from all the other symbols. There is no doubt that the @ ('at') symbol is the most elegant on our keyboard.

It is also the most successful. Since American programmer and e-mail inventor Ray Tomlinson used it to tag an email address for the first time in 1971, the @ symbol has become the global symbol for the Internet - and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

However the @ symbol has been in use for many years. Even in the 16th century, Spanish shopkeepers used it to indicate the Arroba measurement – which corresponded to 10 kilograms. The word comes from the Arabian term Ar—roub which meant ‘a quarter’. In Spain and France, even today the @ symbol indicates arroba or what today is called arrobase.

The British refer to it quite simply as the ‘at – sign’. For example, when British shopkeepers want to sell 4 apples for 20 cents, they will write on their signs 4 apples @ 20 cents. Quite simply, the @ stands for 'at'.

Other languages label the @ sign quite affectionately with pet names. The Poles call it mapa (‘ape’). In the Netherlands, this is lengthened with a suffix (apenstaartje). In Germany it has mutated to the Klammeraffen (spider monkey).

What about the rest of Europe? The Finns type kissanhäntä (cats’ tails) in to their emails, the Swedes (snabel-a), (elephants’ trunks), the Italians chiocciola, (screws) and the Hungarians kukac (worms) - and so it goes on.

However in Hebrew the @ sign is a ‘strudel’. The ‘a’ is the filling, the squiggle the pastry. No matter what it’s called, everyone gets it!