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August 21, 2007


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How did that symbol come to be? It was on typewriter keyboards, I know. Did it always stand for "at"? Why did people need to shorten a 2-letter word to a single character?

Kim: Excellent questions, to which it turns out there are no unambiguous answers. This Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign gives several theories, all of them related to commerce. ("@" is sometimes called "commercial at.") One theory proposes that @ evolved from French "à" (which means "at"); see the Wikipedia illustration for a visual representation of that supposed evolution. Another site http://www.atsymbol.com/history.htm traces the use of "@" in email addresses to one Ray Tomlinson, who selected the symbol back in 1972 because it "would never appear in a person's name." (By the way, the domain www.atsymbol.com is for sale.)

And that's all I've been able to come up with.

Interestingly, author Max(x) Barry wrote a character named @ in his book Syrup (Barry always has the greatest character names). See his post on the subject here: http://maxbarry.com/2007/08/18/news.html

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