four-color-at-signDid you know one of the most commonly-used symbols on the Internet today doesn’t actually have a real English name? It’s true. I’m used to weird typographical symbols having odd-sounding names like “ampersand” or “octothorpe,” but it turns out the humble @ is known only as the “commercial at.” Or, as we say on the Internet every day, just “at.”

But where English falls short, other languages step up to the plate. The New York Times reports on some of the more picturesque depictions of the symbol from other languages.

The @ symbol, though, is on an island (or, perhaps more appropriately, in a zoo) by itself. The Poles use a word for it that means monkey. The Dutch call it a monkey’s tail. The Czechs call it a rolled-up fish filet. The Greeks call it a duckling.

In Hungarian, it is a worm. In Italian, it is a snail. In Ukrainian, it is a dog. In Taiwanese, it is a mouse. Meanwhile, in the United States, it’s technically known as the “commercial at.”

And in Danish, it is “elephant’s trunk-a.”

Where would we be without the “elephant’s trunk-a”? Not only is it an integral part of every email address, but we also use it to denote Twitter accounts, or even as a convenient shorthand for noting what person we’re replying to in comments. And yet few of us ever give it any thought other than “at.”

It’s funny the way the Internet brings new attention to odd little symbols that were formerly unused denizens of the number keys on a typewriter. It puts me in mind of that line from True Stories: “You know, things that never had names before are now easily described. Makes conversation easier.”


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