Printable Version
Pronunciation: æt-sain Hear it!

Part of Speech: Symbol

Meaning: 1. The at-sign, as English-speakers call it, is used to indicate the rate by which a set of items is valued, for instance, 'to buy two pounds of tomatoes @ (at) $5 a pound'. 2. It is also used as an indicator of an e-mail address, e.g. '', separating the account name from the domain name.

Notes: @ is a symbol widely used in English that does not have a special name as do the ampersand, semicolon, and period. We call it the at-sign because it symbolizes the word at in price quotations. In Europe, however, this symbol has taken on a myriad of highly inventive names. Fasten your seatbelts!

In Play: Most Europeans see animals in the at-sign. The Dutch call it an apenstaart(je) "monkey's tail", while the Germans call it a Klammeraffe "spider monkey". The Poles and Serbians also see monkeys in @: in Polish it is malpa and in Serbian, majmun, but their fellow Slavs, the Russians, see it as a little dog, sobachka. The Finns call it kissanhäntä "a cat's tail". In Portuguese and Spanish it is an arroba, a unit of weight equivalent to 15 kilograms, but @ reminds some peoples of food. The Czechs and Slovaks call it a zavináč "rollmop". When they are hungry, Swedes see a kanelbulle "cinnamon bun" in @, but after a good meal it is just a snabel-A "elephant-trunk A". The French and Italians see snails when they see @: the French call it an escargot and the Italians, a chiocciola.

Word History: The origin of the symbol @ is the French preposition à "to, at, in" in expressions like: à 2 euros le kilo "at 2 euros the kilo." The grave accent over this word lengthened over time until it completely embraced the "a" itself. As a matter of fact, the use of a as a preposition meaning "per" in English expressions like 'five dollars a pound' and 'twenty miles an hour' came to us from French à way before it transmogrified into @.

Dr. Goodword,

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