February 4, 2014

A Supershort History of @

The @ symbol. It epitomizes the electronic technology overloaded world we now live it. Many of us didn't even notice that little symbol on the keyboard until email became the norm. Now it's something people are trying to name their children.

It's hard to believe that something so seemingly modern actually was in use since the 1400s.Originally denoting a cask for wines called Amphoras, the @ symbol was used in trading. Later the symbol came to mean "at the price of."  The symbol is documented earliest in Spanish and Portuguese trading records.

Although there is no clear evidence indicating why or how the @ symbol was invented. Most historians agree that the earliest known uses of the @ symbol are monastic texts.

The @ symbol was not included on typewriters, when they were invented in the 1860s but was included in the 1890s on early tabulating systems. The symbol would have likely fallen out of use if it didn't find its way into computer programming in the 1970s. It is now an iconic symbol of the information age, maybe we will see more of it removed from computers as there is now possibly a human being named "#."

I had know idea that @ has had such a lengthy existence. I first encountered antique uses of @ in wills from the 1700s. At first i thought they were likely shorthand by a tired transcriptionist but when I checked the original documents, I was surprised at seeing a row of @s staring at me.   

1 comment:

  1. That's really cool. As far as I can tell, it's not used at all in C++.


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