Creative Content
June 22, 2020

Where Did the @ Symbol Come From?

We all use it every day mainly in email and social media. The dutch call it: apenstaartje “monkey’s tail”, the danish say: snabel - ”elephant’s trunk”, the polish - małpa meaning “monkey” and the korean - dalphaengi “snail”. The @ symbol became an integral part of our daily digital lives. 

So, have you ever wondered how that happened? 

2,000 AD 

It looks like the use of the @ symbol can be traced to the Latin language where it could have been used in place of the “ad” word which meant “at” or “towards”. It could have also been used in the accounts from that time. However, there is not much proof to confirm this theory.

The Middle Ages 

During the Middle Ages, before the invention of printing presses, every letter of a word had to be painstakingly transcribed by hand for each copy of a published book. The monks that performed these long, tedious copying duties looked for ways to reduce the number of individual strokes per word for common words [1]. It was a fusion of 2 letters in the latin preposition “ad”.

1345 

The earliest proof of the use of the @ symbol was found in a Bulgarian translation of a Greek chronicle written by Constantinos Manasses in 1345. Held today in the Vatican Apostolic Library, it features the @ symbol in place of the capital letter alpha "Α" in the word Amen. Why it was used in this context is still a mystery [2]

The medieval manuscript showing @ [3]

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1972

It was picked up again by Ray Tomlinson, who was one of the pioneers of messaging & emailing. 

He was looking at the keyboard on the typewriter and looking for a symbol that wasn’t very much used. @ has been used in accounts, but only by accountants. It was a pretty neglected key on the board.

Ray Tomlinson - left - the father of the @ symbol [4]
Roy Tomlinson was using the Model 33 Teletype [5]
Tomlinson told WIRED US in 2012 that he chose the symbol because it "couldn't be confused with a username". "If every person had an '@' sign in their name, it wouldn't work so well," he said in an interview. "But they didn't. They did use commas and slashes and brackets. Of the remaining three or four characters, the '@' sign made the most sense. It denoted where the user was... at. Excuse my English" "It was the only preposition on the keyboard." [8]


Hope this sheds some light on paid social & creative content.

We’re sharing content regularly for those who want to grow their business using the digital space, with a focus on digital marketing.

If you have any suggestions, questions or just want to geek out over some creative topics, let’s connect on Twitter or Linkedin

Thanks for reading! 

Stay safe,
Anna

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Article links:

[1] http://www.atsymbol.com

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org

[4] https://upload.wikimedia.org

[5] https://commons.wikimedia.org

[6] https://www.flickr.com

[7] https://va3ngc.weebly.com

[8] https://www.wired.co.uk

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