@ sign

Translating the ‘at sign’

Communication is very important to us and no matter where we travel, people will be sharing knowledge using complex and usually ancient languages. Many Western languages share similar origins and a lot of word borrowing goes on. This has possibly never been more the case than now – rapid advancements in technology and an increasingly global community mean that we are sharing ideas almost instantly and these are often referred to by one term in many countries. We hope that by allowing access to essential PDF communications to our customers, wherever they are based in the world, we are assisting in the progression of ideas. We also like to look into how communication has changed and so decided to look into the mysterious staple of email and Twitter – @.


Some of the symbols and terms used in modern computer communication are older than we might expect and actually very interesting. Used by untold numbers of people every day, @, or the ‘at sign’, is one of these, so we decided to look into its origins and how it is referred to in other languages. Despite the fact the symbol was used on typewriters for many years, it only since the advent of the World Wide Web that it has really risen to prominence.


Also known as the commercial at, @ originated in accounting where it was designed to shorten the term ‘each at’, to denote the value of items quickly. Although rarely used in official documents, an example of this use would be:


10 bags @ £3.00 (10 bags each at £3.00), meaning a total cost of £30.00.


This use of @ has led some to believe that its unusual shape is a combination of the letters ‘e’ and ‘a’, so that it literally stands for ‘each at’, but it is likely the origins of this symbol are actually much older, with some reports dating the first recorded use of the symbol to 1536, when it was used by a merchant to denote amphorae (jugs) of wine. Other stories believe it was originally used by medieval monks or by the French or Spanish, in all cases to increase writing efficiency. @, known as arroba in Spanish and Portuguese, is used as a unit of weight in countries which speak these languages. Whatever the origins of @, it is widely used now and is familiar throughout the world. In many languages it has more imaginative names than ‘at sign’, so we thought we’d look at some of these to finish:


  • In Czechoslovakia it is called zavináč, meaning ‘rollmops’
  • In Hungary it is called kukac, meaning ‘worm’ or ‘maggot’
  • In Taiwan, it is called  xiao laoshu (小老鼠), meaning ‘little mouse’
  • In Slovenia, it is called afna, meaning ‘little monkey’
  • In Germany, it is called Klammeraffe, meaning ‘spider monkey’
  • In Wales, it is called malwoden, meaning ‘snail’

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