The great @ symbol debate

What have we started? An innocent enquiry in January 2006 ITNOW about the proper name, or the wittiest name, for the @ symbol and we've been deluged with suggestions. Fortunately web space isn't terribly expensive. Read on, if you have a strong stomach...

Here is the entry from the Jargon file: @ Common: at sign; at; strudel. Rare: each; vortex; whorl; (whirlpool); cyclone; snail; ape; cat; rose; cabbage; <commercial at>.
And here is the link for reference: http://catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/A/ASCII.html

Scott Paisley MBCS

Try  http://www.herodios.com/atsign.htm. Lunchtime fun!

Rob Mould

Everyone I know says ‘at’ when dictating an email address. However these sites propose several names: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%40 (plus links at bottom) http://www.robertfulford.com/AtSymbol2.html

The next question is what should we call a usb flash drive/usb key/ pen drive/ data stick/ thumb drive/ flash disk/disk on key/ data key... etc.

Ian Brown MBCS


This apparently originates from Italian wine merchants – where @ was originally used as shorthand for ‘amphora’, a measure of capacity based on terracotta jars used to transport grain and wine in the ancient Mediterranean world.

‘Despite its rather dull title in the UK and the US of ‘commercial at’, other nations have found more colourful monikers for it. In Spain, for example. it is known as arroba which means a weight of six gallons. The Italians refer to it as a snail, and elsewhere it has been dubbed the elephant's trunk, a monkey's tail and even a cinnamon roll. ‘ So it says at:  http://www.theregister.co.uk/2000/07/
31/whats_all_about/


So, amphora for transporting email and arroba for weighty emails!

Peter Riley MBE MBCS

Re the "humour" item in January 2006 ITnow, if you visit
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_at you will see that there are already a vast number of names for this symbol, so why do we need yet another one?!?!

Steve Stocks MBCS

I've heard it called 'at', because it is a shorthand symbol. But I like the Polish word for it, which is "małpa"  (pronounced "mahw-pah"). It means "monkey"    :)
 
Steven Hankin MBCS


In the ‘Last but not least’ section of ITNOW you say you couldn't find a proper name for the @ symbol.  It has many - my favourite is arobase.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign
 
Alan Burlison

My nomination for the name of the @ symbol is 'atpersend'. Although I admit I also like 'the Circle-A' as mentioned in this article: http://www.robertfulford.com/AtSymbol2.html
 
Stuart McNeil CEng, MBCS, CITP

You can find chapter and verse @ http://www.webopedia.com/DidYouKnow/Internet/
2002/HistoryofAtSign.asp
!
 
My favourite is: Thai - There is no official word for it in Thai, but it is often called ai tua yiukyiu, meaning "the wiggling worm-like character"
 
Peter Hudson

According to Askoxford.com: This sign originated as a scribe's quick way of writing the Latin word ad, especially in lists of prices of commodities. It is usually known as 'the at sign' or 'the at symbol', which is good enough for most people. It is sometimes called 'commercial a', and occasionally by the French name arrobe or arroba. It has acquired various nicknames in other languages, but none has so far caught on in English.

Ross Miles MBCS


There are a number of websites that discuss the name and origin of the ‘at’ symbol, particularly listing the translation from other languages such as "the monkeys tail" and "hanging monkey". The most comprehensive explanation I found is from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign).

The "at" symbol appears to have been created by lazy monks who wanted to eliminate pen-strokes. Mediterranean traders later hijacked it to represent the "amphora" unit of measurement. Wikipedia identifies a number of other names but I think "ampersat" sounds most appropriate. My second choice would be "asperand".

Simon Abbott

Some of the translations of the meaning of the @ sign in other languages include...

Monkey’s tail
Crazy I
Pickled Herring
Elephant’s Trunk
Swinging Monkey
Little Duck
Strudel
Little Mouse

Or the Thai equivalent (very catchy) Ai tua yiukyiu – The wiggling worm-like character.

Ross Miles


The Wikipedia gives reference to it meaning amphora, which I think would be a much better name than the "official" one which is a "commercial at". It also gives a number of alternatives that other countries refer to the symbol as. The character map in XP calls it a "Commercial At" as well. I think I'll start using "Amphora" around the office and see if it catches on?

Craig Harris

How about "limiter" - the thing that limits or confines. In other words the person sending the e-mail is licensed as a limiter.

Just a thought.

Geoff Sewell MBCS

I'm sure you'll get lots of repeated info about this.

Take a look at: http://www.symbols.com/encyclopedia/50/5022.html for a good comprehensive explanation of its origins before computing and how it came to be used today in email addresses.

Yes it is 'the at symbol'. I'm not up to suggesting funny alternatives. However, a Dutch correspondent always refers to it as a 'hanging monkey', which is the German name.  You'll also see that the French and the Italians call it a 'small snail'.

Diane Walker


Windows Character Map calls "@" the "Commercial at". The Unicode standard (for character 0x0040) calls it the same, but also mentions the German name Klammeraffe. (http://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U0000.pdf)

I know this doesn’t provide a techy gimmicky name for it, as you request, but gives some more info. I hope you don’t get too many emails like this!

Luke Sloggett

Historically it was a unit-price multiplier – 5 widgets @ two-and-six each. Any of the conjunctions FROM, IN, WITHIN would seem preferable to AT. My personal preference is for it to become FROM.

Ian Shearer

As you found out, the OED doesn't help. @ is simply "the at symbol". However, if you are prepared to venture beyond the English language, you are in for an amusing journey of discovery. It originated in Spain or Portugal as a unit of weight, with the name arobe (or arrobe or arroba), a name which still persists in France, where it is (officially) called an "arobas". In other countries (maybe they are more imaginative that we are in the UK) it has many descriptive names - spider monkey in Germany, pig's tail in Denmark, snail in Italy or little dog in Armenia. See http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arobas for more details.
 
So what should we call it here in the UK? It has to be something short and snappy, and it would be good if it were descriptive. How about ... at?

David Bethune


From the late 80's I have called the @ sign 'monkey tail'.  This seemed fairly well understood in the Unix community, but I am really surprised that nowadays fewer people seem to understand it.  In a similar vein I used to call the '!' sign 'bang'.  This sign being used widely under Unix.  Seems to be those lily livered Windows folk...but now that I am introducing my company to Linux ;-)

Mike Boyle

It's the Squiggleand of course! Dullards call it "circle-A". It can't be called "A-ring" as that's in use for the Swedish letter å (pronounced "oa" as in boat): it's name in HTML is "&amp;aring;". @ used to be called "Commercial At" which was also a pretty boring moniker!

Ian Alexander MBCS

"At" for "@" has the advantages of being short, punchy and apposite. However for a techier rendition I remember sitting through long lectures in Field Theory, Maxwell's equations in particular, where there was this three dimensional operator "curl" which does neatly capture the physical attributes of "@"
 
David Gray

The @ symbol is also known as the "commercial at." Its name comes from its commercial usage, for example: 400 hours labour @ £10.00 / hour. Quite dull really. A quick search reveals strudel as an alternative name. Presumably this name came about since the @ symbol is all rolled up - like a strudel.

Ben Smyth, Student Member


Hello, I have read your article about the naming of the @ symbol - I haven't got a clue what it is called either but as you asked for our suggestions...how about calling it an.... INTERNAT? Dunno why, but it just came to me when I was drying my hair this morning...didn't even realize I was thinking about it!

Janet Ogden

Regarding your quest for the name of the @: On their selection of symbols available in Word, Microsoft refer to it as "commercial at" which is just as dull as "the at symbol". How about calling it the "imat" (I'm at) (no relation to the iPod, of course) or the "werat" (we're at)?

Alternatively, you could go for "curly at" or, if you're looking for something a little more imaginative, try "at-in-the-hole" (not to be confused with toad-in-the-hole).

Pam Harris MBCS

The best answer I found, with links to other information was from Google Answers:

http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=89484

Rowan Limb CEng MBCS CITP


What about the name atarond... this is a combination of at and around, which incorporates the 'around' circle circumventing the 'a' symbol, and also symbolic of the WWW - 'around the world'.

I have purposefully truncated ataround to atarond to give the name a more mystic/continental twinge. The word can be pronounced "at-a-ron".

Colm O'Callaghan MBCS CITP

You’ve probably had this already but surely “ampersat” would be the best name for “@”. I agree that ampersand is a fine word!

Christopher O’Riordan

Referring to the question "What's the @ symbol called?" on page 34 of the January 2006 edition of ITnow, I can only suggest the following: If the "&amp;" symbol, or "and sign", is known as the "ampersand" then the "@" symbol, or "at sign", must surely be known as the "ampersat".

Looking up "ampersat" in Wikipedia actually directs you to the "At sign" page... Other names given here for this symbol are: about; ampersat or asperand, amphora; ape; apothrope; arobase plus many more.

Mike Hedge


This is extensively described in the following link: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/@

Glynn Everett

The 'at' symbol is called an amphora. It's a measure of capacity used by traders in the Mediterranean area nearly 500 years ago. I'd like to say I knew this all along but it'd be a lie - I Googled it...

Stuart Auton

The @ symbol is known as an ampersat...as I am sure many of your readers have already told you (I can't believe I am the first...but who knows?)

Matt Caswell MBCS

I have a few options for you to choose from: it is originally called the amphora, something relating to measurement of quantity....but lately, most countries have adopted the name aapstert which is an African name for "monkey's tail"....in saying this, some other countries have their own variation to it and name it after other parts of the anatomy found in other animals.

Ka Kuen Mo


I found this info here: http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/
aboutsymbols/atsign?view=uk
on the @ symbol:

‘This sign originated as a scribe's quick way of writing the Latin word ad, especially in lists of prices of commodities. It is usually known as 'the at sign' or 'the at symbol', which is good enough for most people. It is sometimes called 'commercial a', and occasionally by the French name arrobe or arroba. It has acquired various nicknames in other languages, but none has so far caught on in English.’

From a techie point of view “arrobe” or “arroba” is pretty good (like ampersand), and the users would definitely not have a clue what the IT guys are talking about!

Andrew Hewison MBCS

The @ symbol was originally used in accountancy and means 'at cost' ('a' surrounded by a large 'C') eg 10 horses @ £25 ea.  Total = £250.  Its correct pronunciation is 'at cost'.

Chris Poncelet CEng MBCS CITP

A neat question - I don't remember ever having seen it asked or discussed before! I've not done any research (though will be tempted now in the next available idle moment). Also, where does tilde come from, and what do you call ?

A couple of suggestions for @: - roundat, circlet, loopat, loopyat, singlat, oneat.

David Leslie


The English language has a long history of taking words from other languages, anglicizing them as we go.  I can nominate some expressions for @ (which I call "at" as opposed to "the at mark" or "the at symbol". From Norwegian there is "krøll alfa" (Curly alpha). From both Swedish and Danish there is "snabel 'A'" (trunk "A" - as in elephant trunk). Finnish has two alternatives, "miumau" or "at"!

Regards/Hilsen/Hälsningar/Terveisin

Tim Gilbert

In the days when computers were very big and no two keyboards shared the same chararacter set (or the same place for the same character. the '@' symbol was referred to as "the typist's ear'ole". Of course that was also in the days when we had typists! Their loss accompanied the demise of my favourite Christmas joke ('My typist is going to the Christmas Party, is your typist?' 'No, it always hangs this way.)
 
Jim Holder MBCS CITP
 
The @ symbol is officially known as "Asperand" and also several other names including "Ampersat".

Sheetal Patel MBCS

Gouranga...! Well, it’s not really. But wouldn't it be great if this Hare Krishna word meaning "be happy" was used instead of "at". So, instead of saying: "my e-mail address? Sure, its.. nicola {dot} jones {at} b c s {dot} org" you could say: "my e-mail address? Sure, its.. nicola {dot} jones {gouranga} bcs {dot} org"
 
Mark Simpson BSc MBCS


In response to your article in the 'last but not least' editorial, I submit the following response.

The use of the @ symbol has arisen from commercial use throughout the English-speaking world to indicate a rate, or cost per unit. In the last ten years it has become the de facto delimiter in e-mail addresses, separating the user's name from the domain name. Although the change from at meaning "for a given amount per" to at meaning "in a specified (electronic) location" comes fairly naturally to English speakers, it does not for native speakers of other languages, for whom neither "at" nor @ meant anything until email came around.
 
Indeed, a fair number of internet users live in countries that don't use the same alphabet English does (Japan, China, former republics of the Soviet Union including Russia, and Arabic-speaking countries, to name some major ones), and where the keyboards did not conveniently include the @ character until after it's widespread use on the internet made it a necessity.
 
As a result, while in some languages @ is simply called "at," in others, a wide variety of interesting nicknames have been developed for this little symbol. Most are based on the shape of the character, others are more abstract. Some are original and unique, others are derived from other languages. Some have ancient antecedents, others are still "works in progress." (Internet users in Sri Lanka are even now trying to decide what to call @). In some countries a variety of idiosyncratic names have appeared simultaneously, while in others, government bureaucracies are charged with selecting an "official" term.
 
Metaphors range from animals (snail, worm, little dog, horse) to body parts (elephant's trunk, monkey's tail, cat's foot, pig's ear) to food (rollmop herring, strudel, cinnamon roll, pretzel). This article includes a sampling of the many names of @, world-wide.
 
Here are some examples:
 
Afrikaans (South Africa)
In Afrikaans, some people have begun to call @ "aapstert," (monkey's tail), also a term of endearment for someone who's made a silly mistake. Note that Afrikaans is closely related to Dutch, where @ is called, among other things, "apestaart" meaning, of course, monkey's tail.
 
Arabic
The various dialects of Arabic are, of course, written in Arabic script, using a very different alphabet from English, French, and other European languages. The @ sign does not appear on manual Arabic keyboards at all, but it is found on dual - English and Arabic - computer and word processor keyboards. As such, the only use of @ in Arabic is in email addresses. Many people do not even notice it on the keyboard, and do not have a name for it. Most Arab speaking emailers either call @ "at" or translate English "at" into Arabic, calling it "fi."
 
However, one person called it "othon" ( ear ). Another simply called it "a."
 
Cantonese (Hong Kong)
Most things relating to computers and electronics in Hong Kong, until recently a British Crown Colony, are heavily influenced by native speakers of English. In Hong Kong, most people call it "the at sign" pronounced as in England and the U.S.
 
Catalan (Catalonia (Spain))
Most people call it "arrova" (the "rr" is rolled and the "v" is pronounced like a very soft English "b"). In Spanish, the same symbol and name are used to indicate a unit of weight, (1 arrova = approximately 25 U.S. pounds). Like many Spanish terms, this one comes originally from Arabic.
 
Czech (Czech Republic)
In Czech, @ is called zavinac (pronounced ZAHV-in-ach), meaning "rollmops," or pickled herring. Perhaps the shape suggests herring packed tightly in a jar!
 
Danish
In Danish it's either called "alfa-tegn" (alpha-sign) or "snabel," (elephant's trunk). Obviously the former is the more formal usage, but the latter term is used most often when referring to email addresses.
 
The @ sign is also sometimes called "grisehale" (pig's tail).
 
Dutch
The imaginations of Dutch speaking people seem to have worked overtime to come up with names for this little symbol. The original name was "een a met een slinger" (an a with a swing ), but was soon more popularly called either "apestaart" or the diminutive "apestaartje" ((little) monkey's tail) or "slingeraap" (swinging monkey")
 
Other names attested:
 
    * "a-krol" or "a-krul," (curly a).
    * "slinger-atje" (little swing a)
    * "apeklootje" (little monkey's testicle).
 
Since nearly everyone in the Netherlands also speaks English, and as more and more people go online, the English term is increasingly recognised.
 
English
Some English speakers call @ "commercial-a" or "commercial-at." Also heard in English:
 
    * mercantile symbol
    * commercial symbol
    * scroll, or scroll-a
    * arobase
    * each
    * about
    * vortex
    * whorl
    * whirlpool
    * cyclone
    * snail
    * schnable
    * cabbage
 
FORTH. In the computer programming language FORTH, @ means "fetch."
 
(Net)Hack. The old (1960's mainframe-based) computer game Hack, now called NetHack, uses ASCII characters to indicate various "dungeons and dragons" - type creatures. For example, a capital "K" represents a Kobold. Evidently, there are some people who use @ online to indicate a human being, as the game does.
 
Finnish
Many Finnish terms for @ are connected with cats. Not content with naming the sign for what it looks like, Finnish names it for what it looks like or sounds like. In addition to "kissanhnta (cat's tail), "miau," "miumau," and "miuku" are all "miau merkki" (meow marks) in Finnish. Other terms from Finnish include "apinanhanta" (a monkey's tail), or "hiirenhanta" (mouse's tail). Some "computer people" use the English word "at."
 
French
In French, @ is called "arobase." Probably derived from Spanish "arroba," the word has no other meaning; it is simply the name of the symbol. It is also referred to as "un a commercial" (business a), "a enroule" (coiled a), and sometimes "escargot"(snail) or "petit escargot" (little snail).
 
Frisian (Friesland, Frisian Islands)
This Germanic language is spoken on the Frisian Islands in the North Sea off the coast of Holland, Germany, and Denmark. In Frisian @ is called either "aapke" (little monkey) or "apesturtsje" (little monkey's tail).
 
German
In German, @ is most often called either "Affenschwanz" (monkey's tail) or "Klammeraffe" (hanging monkey). This is also a term of zoological classification, for various South American monkeys, including the spider monkey.
 
Some people call it the "Ohr" (ear).
 
Greek
In modern Greek, the equivalent Greek expression "sto" is used, a direct translation of the English term (a).
 
Hebrew
In Hebrew, it's most often either a "shablul" or "shablool" (snail) or a "shtrudl" )strudel, that is, the pastry). In both cases, it's something that is rolled up.
 
Hungarian
Hungarians evidently don't think much of email, as they've elected to call the @ sign "kukac" pronounced KOO-kots (worm or maggot).
 
Indonesian
In Indonesian, @ doesn't really have a name. It's simply pronounced ‘uh’ in email addresses, like "username-uh-company-dot-com."
 
Italian
Italians call @ "chiocciola" pronounced "kee-AH-cho-la" (the snail), and sometimes, "a commerciale" (business a).
 
Japanese
Japanese borrows words freely from foreign languages, though usually with a distinctly Japanese pronunciation. (For example, English (baseball) is rendered beisiboru). Japanese accounting and computer people normally call @ "atto maaku" ("at" mark).
 
Korean
Many Koreans call it "dalphaengi" (snail).
 
Lithuanian
The "official" name for @ in Lithuanian is "comercial et," but most people call it "the email sign" (in Lithuanian, of course). Some Lithuanian emailers have confused @ with &amp;, calling it "ir" (and).
 
Mandarin Chinese (Taiwan)
In Taiwan Mandarin Chinese, @ is called "xiao lao-shu" (little mouse) or "lao shu-hao" (mouse sign). It is also called "at-hao" (at sign) or "lao shu-hao" (mouse sign).
 
Norwegian
In Norwegian, @ is called either "grisehale" (pig's tail) or "kro/llalfa" (curly alpha). In academic circles, however, the English term "at" is widely used.
 
Polish
In Poland most emailers call @ "malpa" (monkey). Other terms: "kotek" (little cat) and"ucho s'wini" (pig's ear). NOTE: What does the mouse say? The mouse says "click?"
 
Portuguese
In Portuguese, it's called "arroba," as in Spanish. The symbol is used to indicate a unit of weight with the same name (1 arroba = 25 U. S. pounds). Like many Spanish terms, this one comes originally from Arabic.
 
Romanian
In Romanian, @ is called "la," a direct translation of English "at”.

Russian
In Russian, the "official" term for @ is "a kommercheskoe" (commercial a), but it is usually called "sobachka" (little dog or "doggie").
 
Other terms: obezjana (the monkey), pljushka (a Russian pastry).
 
Serbian
A variety of terms show up in Serbian. "Majmun" (monkey) is the root of several. This word is borrowed from Turkish. "majmun" (monkey) "majmunski rep" (monkey tail) "majmunsko-a" (monkey-ish a) "ludo-a" (crazy a) "et" (a) adapted from English.
 
Slovak (Slovakia)
In Slovak, like Czech, @ is called "zavinac" (pronounced ZAHV-in-ach), meaning "rollmops," or pickled herring.
 
Slovenian
The word in Slovene is "afna." Perhaps this is a loan word from German, where the mark is called, among other things, "affenschwanz" (monkey's tail). There is a similar word in Slovenian, "afna" meaning "a woman who overdresses, applies too much make-up, etc."
 
Spanish
In Spanish, it's called "arroba." The symbol is used to indicate a unit of weight with the same name ( 1 arroba = 25 U. S. pounds). Like many Spanish terms, this one comes originally from Arabic.
 
Swedish
Emailers in Sweden have the greatest variety of terms available for refering to @. The official term recommended by the Svenska Spreknemnden (The Swedish Language Board) is "snabel-a" (trunk-a, or "a with an elephant's trunk”), and this is still the most common. At one time, the board attempted to introduce a more serious name, "at-tecken" (at-sign) but it didn't really catch on.
 
Another imaginative name sometimes heard in Swedish is "kanelbulle" (a kind of cinnamon roll). Other candidates:
 
    * "apsvans" (monkey's tail)
    * "elefantora" (an elephant's ear)
    * "kattfot" (cat-foot)
    * "kattsvans" (cat's tail)
    * "kringla (pretzel)
 
Thai
Thai does not have an official name for @, but some people call it " 'ai tua yiukyiu" (the wiggling worm-like character).
 
Turkish
Most Turkish emailers call @ "kulak" (ear) or even "Ohr" ("ear" in German). Some have suggested calling @ "at" which sounds the same, of course, but in Turkish means "horse."
 
Ashley Collins CEng MBCS CITP


I'm sure many others must have told you that the proper name of the symbol is 'Commercial At'. It was provided on typewriters so that invoices could be written with the word 'at' in the conventional style.  For example: 65 widgets @ 5s 6d  =  £17 17s 6d.

You may be interested to know that the Tab key was for tabulation of figures, or in other words typing them in columns.  The Escape key allowed the user to continue typing beyond the right hand page margin.

Nicholas Pye-Smith MBCS CITP

I would suggest swain (Symbol Without An Interesting Name), glyph (definitely not a 'higher' glyph (ic)) or since it is a squiggle with an 'a' then it could be a squaggle.
 
Ivor McClinton

As you've presumably discovered by now, the name for the at symbol is asperand. There are some imaginative names for it in other languages:
http://computing-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/at%20sign

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/At+symbol

Penny Hopkins