It’s a Spider Monkey. It’s a Strudel. It’s the Humble At Sign

By Anna Breuer on 3 January 2018
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Until the advent of the Internet, the humble pastry-like @ symbol had been relegated to a very specific and unglamorous task. That is, until e-mail inventor Ray Tomlinson came along and, in 1971, used @ to separate an individual’s user name from the name of their e-mail server, a scheme that has been in use ever since.

While English speakers read the at sign, or @, aloud as “at,” that isn’t the case in other languages, where it has more colorful monikers including monkey tail, elephant trunk, spider monkey, duckling, and strudel.

The at sign was used primarily until the late 20th century to signify “at the rate of” on commercial invoices and price quotes and has been included on virtually every typewriter keyboard since 1900. The American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking referred to it as the “commercial ‘a’.”

The earliest known reference to the symbol is a religious one that dates back to the 14th century, some believe it was derived from the French “à,” which means at, and it was also used as an abbreviation of the Spanish and Portuguese word arroba, a unit of weight equivalent to 25 pounds or 11.3 kilograms.

Speakers of over 15 languages including Arabic, Croatian, Estonian, Hindi, Lithuanian, Persian, Romanian, and Thai, as well as Chinese speakers in Hong Kong and Macau, call it “at.” The Irish call it “ag” (at) and the Turkish, “et.”

Its resemblance to dessert is evident. In Bulgarian it is called the кльомба, after its resemblance to pastry, and in Hebrew it is simply שְׁטְרוּדֶל or strudel.

German speakers in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are dropping the monkey-tail references and increasingly calling it “at” as well.

For the moment, however, here’s what e-mail users across the globe will say when they read it aloud:

Chinese little mouse (older generations), at (younger generations)
Danish snabel-a (elephant’s trunk)
Finnish at-merkki (at sign) or kissanhäntä (cat’s tail)
French arobase (officially) or a commercial (younger generations)
German Klammeraffe (spider monkey) but also “at”
Greek little duck or παπάκι (papaki)
Hebrew שטרודל pronounced strudel
Icelandic atmerkið or at sign
Italian chiocciola (snail)
Norwegian krøllalfa or curly alpha
Russian собака (dog)


(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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