Inquiring Minds: What’s the ‘@’ called?

Q. You know the “@” thing you use in your email address?  Does it have an official name?

A. We all call it the “at sign” and, in English anyway, there does not seem to be any other well-known word for it. Other languages are a bit more creative. The Dutch, for example, call it an “apenstaartje” meaning a “monkey tail;” in Italian it’s a “chiocciola” (snail) and the Russians call it a “sobaka” (dog.)

We couldn’t do our email without the “at sign,” but it started out life perhaps as early as the 17th century as accounting shorthand, helpful for listing the per item price of materials normally bought in bulk. As in, “He bought 10 widgets @ $1 for a total of $10.” 

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- Do you have a question for the staff at the Roseville Library? You can call them at 651-628-6803 or ask your question in person at the Information Desk, Roseville Library, 2180 Hamline Ave. Library hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.


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