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Software Engineer at Heydoc

Do you know what to use the @ sign for something other than email addresses and Twitter handles? I do!

It was an ordinary Saturday when my girlfriend and myself decided to visit Abbey Pumping Station Museum in Leicester while waiting for the mechanic to fix our car. Massive beam engines to support local sewage systems and all that is super cool, but something that caught my attention was Moya No. 1 typewriter machine from 1902. Typewrites fascinate me a lot, but something that triggered my curiosity was the @ sign. Surely email addresses and Twitter were not a thing back then.

Moya No. 1 typewriter machine from 1902

Like a typical millennial, I thought that the @ sign is an invention of the 70s for email addresses and other protocols like SSH. Wrong assumption! The first discovered usage of @ character goes back to 1345, but it was popularized in the 16th century in Spain and Portugal as an abbreviation for the unit of weight, mass or volume — arroba.

I have a fun and little known fact for y’all. In Polish, it is called “małpa” which translates to “monkey”. Yeah, literally “example”, “monkey”, “gmail.com”.

I asked three of my friends if they knew any use case of the @ sign other than obvious modern usage. Unfortunately, none of them could tell me anything more than I already knew, so I wrote this post down. Until next time, stay curious 🧐

Comments

  • f
    fundor333

    In some medieval paper it use before the date as replace for annus (year), some paper is an unit of mesure of Amphora and in some typewriter as "at a price of"

    @ at MoMA

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  • R
    Rogier

    Funny that it’s called monkey in Polish. In Dutch the arroba is called Apenstaartje literally translating to “little monkey tail”.

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    • Pawel Grzybek
      Pawel Grzybek

      Ha ha ha, thats so funny! "Money" by itself is funny, but "little monkey tail" is a next level. Thanks for sharing Rogier!

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  • M
    Marco Peters

    Another fun fact: in Dutch, we call it an 'apenstaart', which translates to 'monkeytail' in English!

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    • Pawel Grzybek
      Pawel Grzybek

      Just learned this funny fact from Rogier moment ago 👆 supper funny

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  • A
    Adrien Rahier

    Actually to complete the language vocab. I am subscribing to a newsletter that recently explained the etymology of the name itself: Arobase comes from the spanish word arroba, which in itself comes from arabic ar-rub (a quarter - unit). In France we call it « À commercial » (commercial A), « at » or « petit escargot » (small snails). In foreign language you can find the following translations: apenstaartje (monkey tail), zavinac in Tchech (round pastry), kukac in Hungarian (worm), klammeraffe  in German (spider monkey), miukumaukuen in Finish (Meow/cat sign) or snabel-a in Swedish (A with an elephant trunk).

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  • B
    Bramus

    In Belgium and Holland we call it "apestaartje" which translates to "monkey's tail" because it looks like monkey seen from the side, with its tail curling around it.

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  • B
    Bramus

    (Lol, should've read the other comments first 😅)

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  • F
    Forloops

    In addition to the fun fact you written above: in Dutch, it is called an 'apenstaart', which translates to 'monkeytail' in English!

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  • D
    D

    In Russian it’s called “a dog”. So “example dog gmail.com”.

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  • A
    Alex

    In Finnish we used to call the sign miuku-mauku ("Meow meow") when email was still a new thing.

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  • B
    Balazs

    Fun fact too: In Hungary we call it "kukac" and it means worm or caterpillar in english.

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  • O
    Ola

    In Sweden you call it "Snabel-A" which translates to "Elephant's trunk A" .

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  • B
    Bo

    Bulgarians still call it "maymunsko "a", which translates to "monkey a".

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  • M
    Marco

    In Italy, similar to French, we call it “A commerciale” or “chiocciola” (snail)

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