Where it’s at?

Have you ever wondered what the name of the @ symbol is? Most possibly not, but this is the kind of thought that occupies my brain when it is most probably supposed to be occupied with other more important things- such as theories relating to the white cube or doing my tax return.

Sometimes confused with “ampersand” which is the “&” symbol, the @ is called an amphora. Being linked with email, @ seems like a fairly modern invention, but in fact its origins are quite ancient- no not the typewriter- even older than that. Many sources on the internet trace its use back to medieval Italy where it has been recorded as a type of measurement, by Florentine merchants about 500 years ago. An amphora is an ancient Greek vessel for transporting wine, olive oil and the like. It then became synonymous with a volume unit of measurement- which seems to vary from country to country and over time.

I believe that its ancient Greek origins also extend to the symbol @ itself, as I saw a BBC documentary once that showed this symbol stamped onto Greek amphorae, indicating that it’s been in use since ancient times. Frustratingly, I haven’t been able to find a reference to this on the internet, so perhaps it wasn’t widely used, but I definitely saw the amphora stamped on an ancient urn.

In English we usually just call it the “at” symbol or the “commercial at” in the printing trade. In other languages it takes a variety of more entertaining names:

Miukumauku- Finish for the cat’s meow, although I think this has largely fallen out of use and officially it is called ät-merkki (at sign)

Kukac- Hungarian for worm

Papaki- Greek for duckling

Naruto- Japanese for whirlpool (but more common but less poetic is attomāku- at mark)

Shu- Chinese for mouse (I assume this is Mandarin)

Apestaart- Dutch for monkey’s tail

Arobasse- in French, but also referred to as escargot

Strudel- in Hebrew

Chiocciola- Italian for little snail

Zavinac- Czech for rollmop

Snabel-a- Danish & Swedish for elephant trunk a

Sabachka- Russian for puppy

Dalphaengi- Korean for snail

Klammeraffe- German for spider monkey

Kulak- Turkish for ear

Arroba- in Spain & Portugal, which is also a weight measurement- of about 15 kilos. This word comes from the Arabic, ar-roub, meaning quarter- of quintal- another measurement and links back to trade in the Mediterranean region.

So if you can shed any further light on this or if you have any other words for @ or if you saw that BBC documentary, feel free to add your bit….or any of your theories on the white cube & tax deduction ideas…


About Tanya

Tanya, MA Art Curatorship, Melbourne Uni
This entry was posted in technology, Uncategorized, words and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Where it’s at?

  1. stephaniii says:

    Thanks for a unique post! I admire your innovative topic idea. I never thought I’d read a blog about the @ symbol. It gets me thinking about © too, whether the circle enclosing the C represents the protection of one’s work?

    • thanks, glad you liked it…..oooh, the copyright symbol- that’s a whole complicated area of law, but my understanding of it in Australia is that your work- written, artistic etc becomes automatically copyrighted the minute you produce it. Adding the symbol with a date just makes it clearer that the work is copyrighted & the date this commences from. It’s likely to hurt your brain, but useful to know about it if you are producing work – you can find out more at the Copyright Council of Australia.

  2. Lior says:

    I love the international word origins for @. I can’t quite see how it’s like a puppy but?

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