The ‘@’ symbol we use everyday as a delimiter in email addresses has a lot of funny names in other countries. What’s also interesting, the symbol is much older than you probably think.
The brief history of @
The “at” symbol was first used long before any electronic communication was invented, specifically, as early as 16th century or even before that. Yep, that’s it. The symbol was used by merchants to indicate the rate a certain good was sold at. Literally, ‘@’ meant ‘at the rate of’. For instance, buying 10 bales of wool at 2 pounds each might be written as “10 bales of wool @ £2”.
Upon invention of email in 1971, its author Ray Tomlinson decided to use this symbol as a delimiter between the name part of the email and the server part. At the time of ARPANET creation in 1969, a primitive mailbox system already existed. It allowed users to exchange messages within the same mainframe using specific commands. We remembered how it all started in this article. Then, Ray Tomlinson who worked as a computer engineer at the BBN (Bolt, Beranek and Newman) consulting company thought of applying the same technique to allow users to send such a message to any computer in the network. Which included exactly 19 separate computers at the time.
The question was: how to address a recipient the message would be sent to? The name of the addressee should be separated from the name of the computer somehow. So Tomlinson selected @ as a neutral symbol that was rarely used in messages and hence felt appropriate.
Could anyone imagine some other symbol in this role now?
How do they pronounce @ in other countries?
In English, we just say at. What about other languages and countries? Turns out, there are very ingenious and funny names of this character including ‘monkey tail’, ‘elephant’s trunk’, ‘doggy’, ‘worm’ and even ‘moon ear’.
How do they call the @ symbol in…
- Afrikaans = aapstert (“monkey tail”)
- Arabic = آتْ (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Armenian = ishnik/շնիկ (“puppy”)
- Azerbaijani = ət (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Basque = bildua (“wrapped A”)
- Belarussian = ślimak/сьлімак (“snail”)
- Bosnian = ludo A (“crazy letter A”)
- Chinese, Mandarin (and most areas of China) = ài tè 艾特 (phonetically the English word “at”), or quan a, meaning “circular a”
- Chinese, Taiwanese = xiǎo lǎoshǔ 小老鼠 (“little mouse”)
- Croatian = et (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Czech = zavináč, (“rollmops” A type of rolled pickled herring)
- Danish = snabel-a (“elephant’s trunk A”)
- Dutch = apenstaartje (“monkeys tail”)
- English = at
- Estonian = ätt (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Finnish = ät-merkki (“at symbol”)
- French, European = arobase (also: arrobase, arrobas or arrobe; sometimes at) or petit escargot, little snail
- French, Canadian = a commercial (sometimes arrobas or at,referring to an archaic unit of weight)
- Georgian = at/ეთ–ი (phonetically the English word “at”)
- German = Klammeraffe (“spider monkey”) or Affenschwanz (“monkey-tail”) or “at” which is becoming more common
- Greek = παπάκι/papaki (“little duck”)
- Hebrew = shtrudel/שטרודל (“strudel”).
- Hindi = at/एट (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Hungarian = kukac (“worm”)
- Icelandic = atmerkið (“the at sign”)
- Indonesian = et (phonetically the English word “at”) or “uh” sign.
- Irish = comhartha ag (“at sign”) or just ag (“at”)
- Italian = chiocciola (“snail”) or sometimes at (pronounced “et”)
- Japanese = attomāku (アットマーク, from the English words “at mark”); some people call it naruto.
- Kazakh = aiqulaq/айқұлақ (“moon’s ear”)
- Korean = golbaeng-i/골뱅이 (“whelk snail shells”)
- Kurdish = at/ئه ت (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Kyrgyz = maumulcha/маймылча (“monkey”), sometimes sobachka/собачка (Russian for “doggy”) or эт (et, phonetically the English word “at”)
- Latvian = et (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Lithuanian = eta (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Luxembourgish = at (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Macedonian = maimuncheh/мајмунче (“little monkey”)
- Malay = di (Malay word for “at”)
- Nepali English = “at the rate” (for example: john at the rate gmail.com).
- Norwegian = krøllalfa or alfakrøll (“curly alpha”). Commonly, people will call the symbol [æt] (phonetically the English word “at”, particularly when giving their email addresses)
- Persian, at/اَت (phonetically the English word “at”).
- Polish = małpa (“monkey”)
- Portuguese = arroba (an archaic unit of weight)
- Romanian = at (phonetically the English word “at”) or coadă de maimuţă (“monkey tail”)
- Russian = sobaka/собака (“dog”)
- Serbian = ludo A/лудо А (“crazy A”) or majmunče/мајмунче (“little monkey”)
- Slovak = zavináč, (“rollmops” A type of pickled herring filet)
- Slovenian = afna (the informal word for “monkey”).
- Spanish-speaking countries = arroba (which is a pre-metric unit of weight)
- Sámi (North Sámi) = bussáseaibi (“cat’s tail”)
- Swedish = snabel-a (“elephant’s trunk A”) or at (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Tagalog = at (which means “and” in Tagalog, so the symbol is used like an ampersand as well as for email addresses)
- Thai = at (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Turkish = et (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Ukrainian = ет (phonetically the English word “at”)
- Urdu = at/اٹ (phonetically the English word “at”).
- Uzbek = kuchukcha (“doggy”)
- Vietnamese, north = A còng (“bent A”)
- Vietnamese, south = A móc (“hooked A”)
- Welsh = malwen or malwoden (both meaning “snail”); often just the English word is used
- Yiddish = Strudel/שטרודל (“strudel”)
Today, it is hard to imagine a world where email addresses do not contain @ in them. Since its first use in 1971, the symbol gained enormous popularity and later was adopted for other applications. For instance, to address someone in a chat or in social media, or to separate user and password in various online authentication services, and in many programming languages.
- Microsoft Outlook editions
- How to Save Outlook Emails for further use
- How to Move Your Local Emails to a New Computer
- Conversion of IncrediMail messages to Thunderbird
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