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Who invented the @ symbol in every Email address?
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  Who invented the @ symbol
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  About the author:
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   Tim Horton-Brown, HKR is the "CTO" [Chief Technical Officer] and the Board ex-CXO for VectorInter.Net.
    Please donít send him other trivia questions. He has a job to do, real work that does not include studying Latin or pondering the great mysteries of the internet.
    Comments about this article can be sent to CTO@VectorInter.Net
    Read more about How things work, by reading other items in the newsletter archives.
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If you really want to confound your favorite Internet expert, ask the trivia question, "what is the proper name for the @ symbol?" You know the symbol. The one in your Email address. You@some-address.com. Many of us see that @ symbol hundreds of times a day, but..... "What is it called?" 

    First some history about the @ symbol. Back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth (in 1972), a guy named Ray Tomlinson invented an email program to send messages across what was called a distributed network. He was doing university computer research with large mainframe computers. These were the earliest days of computer engineering, before desktop icons and "double-clicking" around your desktop. All computers used a keyboard-only interface and commands were entered at the prompt that looked like this:

$username#> >_ | 

    The command line just sat there and blinked in the lower left corner of the computer screen, waiting for the user to type instructions. The original program Ray wrote was derived from two others: an intra-machine announcement program called SENDMSG and an experimental file transfer program called CPYNET.
    In March of 1972, Ray modified his new program for use on ARPANET, which was the precursor to what we now call the Internet. The @ sign was chosen from the punctuation keys available on his Model 33 Teletype machine for its "A as in the word at" meaning. This was the first use of @ to link a username and an Domain Name internet address together to identify one specific user on a shared computer mainframe. Electronic mail was born, and it was an instant hit. You can read "How Domain Names work", in the Newsletter section of this web site.

   While we are re-visiting history, Larry Roberts is generally credited with writing the first email management program. In July of 1972, He unveiled a little program that would list, read, save, forward, and respond to messages. It's functionality was tedious and very different than Outlook express, or the AOL, Yahoo and others you may be familiar with. This electronic message system was also available to anyone, FREE! Think of the patent and licensing royalties Ray and Larry missed out on !! Even in the earliest days of what we now call the internet, and long before the term killer App came along in the 90's, Email was the most popular computer productivity application.   Less than one year after it's wide release, a study done by ARPA showed that 75% of all the traffic moving on ARPANET in the summer of 1973,was email.  Read "Email, the Killer App", a discussion of how Email can be used to effectively market products, without spamming.

    Now, back to the name of that ubiquitous little symbol we all carry in our e-mail addresses. The answer to "What is the @ symbolís name?" really depends on where you live, or the native language you speak. 

    In the USA, it is called the "at sign", for the very same reasons Ray originally picked it from his keyboard. The rest of the English-speaking world generally adopted the same term. The USA's influences ( read: Silicon Valley and IBM ) on the early world-wide computer community was overwhelming. "English" is the language of computer code. In Hong Kong for example, until recently a British Crown Colony, most people call it "the commercial at" because of the influence of the Queenís English. 

    So far we arenít making much progress in finding entertaining answers to the trivia question, but a wide variety of creative nicknames are used. The more interesting monikers or Nom de Plume for our little friend @ generally come in several types; anatomical references (ears, curly tails), animal names (snails, horses, worms), foods (pretzel, cinnamon roll), and those based on the shape of the @ character itself. You must remember that a fair number of Internet users live in countries that don't use the English alphabet of characters. China, Japan, Korea come to mind. All of the former Soviet republics, and any Arabic speaking country did not use the @ symbol at all in the printed word. It was introduced by the widespread use of standardized (read: Microsoft) keyboards and the Internet made it a necessity. Many Koreans call it "dalphaengi", or snail. Conversely, The overwhelming influence of North American computer companies contracting Japanese assembly early in the personal computers history, Japanese computer users normally call @ atto maaku, or "at mark".   In the Russia Republic, the "official" term for @ is a kommercheskoe or commercial again. The slang term is sobachka "doggie" or pljushka, which is a common Russian pastry.  The German name for it is klammeraffe, or spider monkey. You need to watch TV nature programs to get the reference to the monkey's tail. In Finland, the @ is called a catís tail. The same anatomical part, just a different animal. 

    In Spanish, it's called "arroba." The symbol is used to indicate a comparison of measure units, as in, 10 Euros = @ 1664.20 Spanish Pesetas. The French slang name is petit escargot, or little snail. The French officially call @ an "arobase", and was probably derived from Spanish "arroba", because the word has no other useage in French. In Italy, they also call it a snail, but they donít refer to its size. No Italian that I know would state publicly that any attachment they had was small, especially if the French were admitting to having a petit one.

    Most Arabic speaking e-mailers either call @ "at" or translate the English word into Arabic, calling it " Fi ". In South Africa, Tribal tongues adopted their written language from the Dutch colonials, just as Hong Kong was influenced by the British Crown. Mixing culture and Dutch results in the term "aapstert" which is a monkey's tail again. In other parts of southern and mid Africa the symbol is known as an elephantís ear, another obvious anatomical reference.  

    The Internet users of Sweden have the biggest diversity of names for our little friend @ . The official beauracracy recommends calling it a "A snabel-a", translated as "A, with an elephant's trunk". There were beauracratic attempts to introduce a more serious name, at-tecken or the "at sign", but it didn't really catch on. Sometimes in Swedish you will hear; kanelbulle, which is a cinnamon roll-type pastry. or kringla, a pretzel snack. Some call it apsvans, or monkey's tail, elefantora, which is an elephant's ear and a few use kattfot, "catís foot or kattsvans, "cat's tail". 

    My favorite slang term for the @ symbol is the Swedish, kanelbulle, roughly a cinnamon bun. There are franchised coffee shops all across the world wishing weíd all use that term, so we are constantly in a state of frenzy for pastry. I canít see myself running out for a quick visit to the zoo every time I receive E-mail, but a trip to the local bakery could become a habit. 

    By the way, where did the @ symbol itself come from? It had to get on Rayís keyboard somehow. We get it from Western European culture. Look at the ampersand symbol, & . Ironically, it is the Latin abbreviation of the word "net". The symbol & comes from joining an E with a T. The @ is also the result of a two-letter phonetic IPO and merger, combined to form the Latin preposition "ad". I donít think I have to tell you what ad means on the Internet do I? I wonder if there is a Latin word is for SPAM? 






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