The story about the Chinese couple who wanted to name their baby son "@" was all over the media last week. Seems that the spelled-out version of "@"--a-t--can be pronounced in Chinese to sound like a phrase that means "love him" (ai ta). (Hats off to Michael at PopWink for coming up with the best headline for the story.)
Now we learn, via William Safire's Aug. 19 "On Language" column in the New York Times, about how "@" is pronounced in some other languages. The link is to Herodios, where I found a delicious entry that Safire overlooked or chose not to include:
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].
Elsewhere in Europe:
E-mailers 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]
Safire, by the way, gives the Hebrew version of "@" as shabul ("snail"), but the alternative I've always cherished is strudel.
Update: Speaking of strudel, or more correctly "shtrudel," Grant Barrett at Lexicographer's Rules points to this excellent article by "Philologos" in the Forward, a 110-year-old publication that's undergoing something of a renaissance (and which still publishes an edition in the original Yiddish). Philologos writes:
Viewed frontally, the only symbol on a keyboard that a strudel remotely looks like is a space bar, not an @.
But the trick is to avoid frontal confrontation. If you regard a piece of strudel from the side, you see something else. Strudel is made by spreading a filling, such as slices of apple mixed with raisons [sic] and cinnamon, on a very thin sheet of dough and then rolling the dough into a cylinder before baking it. The result, when seen in cross-section, is a spiral like a jellyroll’s that certainly looks more like an @ than does a pickle in a herring. This is in fact where the pastry got its name from, the primary meaning of Strudel in German, the language of its geographical birthplace, being a whirlpool or eddy.