T4W: Surprising Symbol

atsymbolThe @ symbol has become an integral part of all our electronic communication. It was originally used in monastic manuscripts before the printing press was invented. While making copies of Latin texts monks used short cuts. The @ symbol, it seems was an abbreviation of the Latin word ad (meaning ‘towards’ or ‘to’) and was formed by adding a tail to the ‘a’ character to signify the d!

It was also found in a letter by an Italian wine merchant, Francesco Lapiwjcj, sent on 4th May 1536. In the letter he lists the prices of wine and uses the @ sign to denote an amphora, the large clay pots in which wine was transported. For many years the symbol was also used by traders to denote the price of individual units – 12 oranges @ €0.50.

It the 1870’s it appeared on typewriters. In the 20th century its use declined until a man called Ray Tomlinson decided to use it to separate names on an intranet system he was working on.

Before long the first electronic messages were being passed between computers in Tomlinson’s office using his new address system and the rest is history.

A representation of the @ symbol, created by Ray Tomlinson in 1971, was acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2010.