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At sign, arrobas … or just @

Updated : Wednesday 30 November 2011

The @ functions as the separator in an email address. It is of course pronounced “at”, as in me [at] work [dot] org. OK, so you knew that much. However, the origins of this odd character and its other name, “arrobas”, remain a mystery. Some say that it was a unit of measurement in Spanish and Portuguese. The word Aroba also means a cinnamon stick in Swedish and a monkey’s tail in Dutch. As for the symbol @, one view is that it originated not in English but in Latin. To address someone formally, the correct form of words was “ad”, (meaning to or at), with the wraparound D coming to represent the A. You choose. But now ”@” has another use as well, for Twitter addicts replying to a Tweet (a message from another Twitter member), and bloggers replying to comments left on their blog.

  • Even though we may never know the origins of the”@”, what matters is that it’s round and funny and saves us time when we tweet. So, instead of writing, “this message is for Vincent”, you just put ”@vincent”, which is short, to the point, and very Twitter. The character itself, a symbol of all things modern, was invented several centuries ago. Worth remembering for all those who use it in their logo or communications to give their brand a more modern feel.

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