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520 points by colinprince on June 5, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

In Norwegian the official name is "krøllalfa", meaning "curly alpha". Hip in the 90s, but I don't think I've heard anyone call it that in years. I was actually surprised when I learned that "at" was the proper English name and usage. I had always assumed it was a symbol that had been co-opted into network addresses because it was accessible from the keyboard and kinda looked like an a.

One advantage of the international variants is that they're not ambiguous, whereas in English you might have to explicitly specify "the at symbol" when speaking.

As a side note: A long time ago, before the internet and international shopping, I mainly thought of $ as the variable character in BASIC.

In the 80's it was not uncommon to hear "snabel-A" in Norway too, quite possibly because Danish and Swedish computer magazines were more commonly seen in Norway before more Norwegian magazines gained traction.

"Alfrakrøll" was quite common for some time. Personally I don't think I've ever used krøllalfa - it just sounds dumb to me. "Alfrakrøll" is still what I'd prefer.

Then again, I've lived outside of Norway for 14 years, and it's quite fascinating to come back for visits and come across word usage I'm totally unfamiliar with. Especially since starting with home computers in the early 80's means English technology terms got deeply ingrained for me long before Norwegian versions started gaining traction.

The Swedish is incorrectly reprinted by the TFA. It says "with an (elephant) trunk", while the referenced Tweet (by a Swedish person) says "elephant trunk A".

The actual Swedish wording is "snabel-a", which is a compound word consisting of the two words "snabel" ([elephant] trunk) and "a" (the letter "a").

So the proper English translation of the Swedish name for the character @ would be something like "an A with a trunk", I guess, since English isn't quite so malleable when it comes to building compound words.

Source: I'm from Sweden.

I'm from Sweden as well, and it took a while for me to hear it referred to as "kanelbulle".

In the early 90's when I was introduced to email, my father and his colleagues used to call it "kanelbulle", and that stuck with me. It wasn't until a few years later when email started to gain traction with the non-techie crowd I heard it being called "snabel-a".

Translation; "kanelbulle" is Swedish for "cinnamon roll/bun", because @ looks like one.

Edit: First sentence doesn't make sense, I mean it took me some time to hear it referred to as "snabel-a".

Yeah it's the same for the Danish version. It's literaly "trunk-a" or just "trunka".

I'm actually from the Faroe Islands, which is an autonomous contry in the Kindom of Denmark. We speak Faroese, another nordic language, and here it's "kurla". Which is literaly the Faroese word for curl. Just happens to have the a at the end.


Dialects might have played in. Krøllalfa is what Språkrådet recommends. I think both are awkward. There's a hair salon by my office called Alfakrøll, which is particularily cringeworthy.

I've always had my computers and devices set to English. Direct translation of technical terms is usually jarring and/or confusing, and impossible to troubleshoot by googling. Especially new concepts that haven't gained traction yet.

Don't forget the Swedish classic "kanelbulle". It was very popular by the last year of they 90s and means "cinnamon bun". https://tickledpinkstyle.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/kanelbu...

I always thought the English version was ampersat.

I just looked into this, and the ampers portion of of both ampersand and ampersat is short-hand/corruption of "and per se" [1], meaning ampersand is another way of writing the word "and", and ampersat is another way of writing the word "at".

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ampersand#Etymology

I think "ampersat" was first coined in the 90s (when email suddenly made the @ sign more common), presumably by analogy with "ampersand". The earliest reference I can find is a suggestion from a viewer writing in to CBS Sunday Morning in 1994 (paywalled link, I'm afraid): https://www.lexisnexis.com/uk/nexis/docview/getDocForCuiReq?...

This newspaper article from 1996 also shows someone proposing "ampersat" apparently as a novel suggestion: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/bits--bytes-1317440....

Sounds like it might be related to English "ampersand" (&), which goes back to Latin.

AFAIK at is short for ampersat.

No one actually uses „Klammeraffe“ in German. It’s just „at“ (English pronunciation – most of the time). I wonder how widespread the use of those alternative names for “at” is in other languages he lists.

In German „Klammeraffe“ is this weird, unwieldy nickname that used to be somewhat fashionable a long time ago (mid-nineties maybe, whenever many people where first confronted with email addresses). I remember it being used back then whenever people were explaining the internet in media (TV, radio, books), though I don’t think it ever got widely used outside that context.

"arroba" is definitely the common word in Spanish & Portuguese.

not Spanish but lived in Spain and this is spot on for castellano (Spain Spanish)

In Italian, "chiocciola" and "chiocciolina" are definitely the most common.

Depends on the contest. With friends, family and people not very tech savvy, yes, it's widespread. In work circles the English version is commonly accepted.

Agreed. And to nitpick on the article for the non-Italian speakers: The pronunciation is "kee-o-cho-la”, no "chee-o-cho-la" :D

Back around the time I had my first computer (1996) I'd hear a few people call it "Klammeraffe". I completely forgot about it though, "christoph Klammeraffe cwagner.me" is not exactly efficient to say.

Klammeraffe was common in German (in Germany, Austria) til the late nineties. Nowadays everyone uses "at".

The Dutch one "money tail" is more widespread than "at", I would say.

Do you mean "monkey tail" ("apenstaart")? I forgot about that one. I haven't heard it in years in Belgium.

I'm not so sure. I'm Dutch as well, and when I recite my email address I use the English "at", so "douwemaan at domain" rather than the unwieldy (4 syllables long!) "douwemaan apenstaartje domain".

In my experience most (if not all) people in my age group (18 - 25) simply pronounce it as "at". This could be a generational thing as most of us were raised with the internet and all these internet-y terms come quite naturally to us.

It could very well be an age thing, because I myself and friends of similar age (25-30) use both 'at', and 'apenstaartje', although primarily the former.

Generally for email we say "at", because it's just shorter. But for other uses, "apenstaartje" is also in widespread use. In particular for referring to the symbol itself, because it avoids ambiguity.

Actually, this is the first time I have ever heard about the word "Klammeraffe" in this context, but according to Wikipedia ( http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/At-Zeichen ), there are a lot of alternatives to "At".

Affenschwanz: Monkey tail Affenohr: Monkey ear Affenschaukel: Monkey swing Elefantenohr: Elephant ear

In Japanese, the sign itself is called "attomaaku" ("at mark") but it's pronounced as "atto" when dictated. So someone's email would be johnsmith-at-gmail-dot-com, and if you ask a Japanese person to pronounce the symbol, they would say "atto". However, if you show them the symbol and ask them _what it is_, they probably would say "attomaaku".

Semiotics is fascinating.

"atto" is アット for アットマーク and you don't really pronounce the "to" so much in the end, unless you're really from the countryside or something. It's just that you need to have it to make the "t" sound coming from English.

Not sure what's so fascinating about that particular example in Japanese, there are much more interesting things in the language than this.

Thanks for teaching me how to pronounce Japanese words! I am not all that familiar with the language. My limited experience includes being born in this little clubbing district called Roppongi, growing up in this little city called Tokyo until I was fourteen, and having read somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 books in it. Even with such a limited knowledge of Japanese, I ostensibly have a monthly column in a nationally circulated magazine.

I didn't say this was a great example to showcase the nuance and intricacy of Japanese. All I said was how semiotics was interesting in general, my observation being an (admittedly boring) example of it.

Haha, alright, I did not know what was your background in Japanese. :)

It just seemed weird to mention Japanese for this particular case of @ since I don't think there is anything remarkable to it compared to how it's pronounced in other languages as mentioned in the original post.

What magazine do you write in ?

Sorry for sounding like an ass, but I thought I would provide my slightly different perspective, precisely because Japanese was not particularly remarkable pronunciation-wise (but still interesting semiotics-wise)

I contribute to one of the Nikkei publications.

Sorry if the question is stupid, but were you born of Foreign parents (at least one of them) or Japanese parents ? Your English seems to be very natural.

atto is about the closest their writing rules allow. It is all pairs like ka, ki, ko, ku, except for n. So all loan words have to be extended if they end illegally.

Actually it's interesting that you mention this. Technically, you can also make it atoma-ku, (like ato like in later, and ma-ku as in mark). I wonder if the dip-tone was intentional to make it sound more like foreign word.

when you think about it - not writing (orthographic) rules, speech (phonetic) rules surely?

"[chiocciola] is fun to say, too. Something like 'chee-o-cho-la' but with more exotic hand gestures."

The initial "chi" in Italian is pronounced like "kee" (e.g. chianti). So this would be pronounced "kee-o-chio-la"

I'm italian and I confirm it ;)

In Catalan we call it arrova. It's interesting that, used as a unit of mass, the @ had different values in different places [1][2]:

- Castille: 11.5002325 kg

- Aragon: 12.5 kg

- Catalonia: 26 pounds

- Valencia: 30 pounds

- Portugal: 32 pounds

Apparently it's still used as a unit of measure in Spain and South America, for example for oranges [2] and cocaine [3].

[1] http://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrova [2] http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arroba_%28unidad_de_masa%29 [3] http://web.archive.org/web/20110101190636/http://www.delisse...

Still a standard in South Portuguese countryside to measure livestock weight. 15kg=1 arroba

Note that 12 kg is 26.5 pounds, so they are all somewhat related to each other but not exactly.

The number of significant digits on the Castille version is ridiculous compared to the others. Could it be that Castille still uses this unit and therefore have such a specific translation value?

>A pictogram…, is an ideogram that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object.

By this definition, @ is not a pictogram just because it is named for a pictorial resemblance. It must convey meaning through that pictorial resemblance. A "monkey tail" or "elephant trunk" or "sea snail" does not convey the meaning of "at", unless I'm missing some cultural context.

木, on the other hand, conveys the meaning of "tree" through visual representation of roots below the ground and branches on top [1].

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E6%9C%A8

To be fair, the article does go on to explain that with regard to pictograms, "what we’ve seen happen with the @ symbol is the opposite."

I believe in Russian it's called "Sobachka", or "Doggy." (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Arrobase in french. Don't think it means anything.

Here you go:

> Le nom arobase, forme la plus fréquente, est une déformation récente du castillan arroba(s), qui désigne une unité de mesure de poids et de capacité (dite en français arrobe), en usage en Espagne et au Portugal8, de grandeur variable selon les régions et selon les liquides (huile ou vin). Ce terme, attesté en Espagne depuis 1088, vient lui-même de l'arabe الربع (ar-rubʿ), « le quart », pour un quart de l'ancien quintal de 100 livres, soit 12 kg environ. Depuis le xvie siècle, en effet, le mot arroba — parmi d'autres — s'est constamment écrit au moyen de l'abréviation "@"9.


Same origin as the Spanish and Portuguese arroba[1], the Arabic ar-rubʿ (الربع). It's a unit of weight[2], "the fourth part (of a quintal), the term defined the load that a donkey or mule could carry."

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_sign#Names_in_other_language...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arroba

Apperently it's собака (sobaka, meaning "dog").

Собачка – a diminutive form for "dog" – can be used as a conversational word for "commercial at" (@).

Собака (dog) is vulgar in many contexts in Russian.

Собака (sobaka) means just a dog and is not vulgar. Of course if you call people in names of animals, then it can be insulting, yes. But true that they call symbol @ as a dog :)

Собака (sobaka) is the commonly used word for "@". It's not derogatory at all in this particular context.

Also кряказябла

"Кракозябра" is a more common spelling, means any strange character. The plural "кракозябры" often refers to a text interpreted in a wrong character encoding.

... which is just a funny, made-up word. Spelling varies, I heard the "krakozyabra" version the most.

I believe "krakozyabra" is used for the symbols in incorrect encoding. The only word that I ever heard for "at" is "собака" (pronounced as suh-buh-kuh)

When I worked in retail, I noticed Indian people would pronounce it something like 'attarrat', with a hard R in the middle.

It took me a while to catch on to what was ment by that, but i never really pushed it much further to get the 'proper' pronounciation.

I believe they were saying "at the rate".

Not sure why people are downvoting you. The @ symbol is hundreds of years old and originally meant "at the rate of" (as in, "10 boxes @ $1" means "10 boxes for $1 apiece"). It's perfectly possible that the Indian population could have picked this up and perhaps contracted it a bit during the reign of the British Empire.


That is indeed the case. The 'at the rate of' usage was quite popular in arithmetic problems even in the early 90s when most of the population was unaware of emails. My parents still say it as at the rate of when reading aloud an email address.

I think this is the most interesting thing I've learnt from this thread: that most other countries didn't use @ as "at the rate of", and hence had names for the funny symbol on their typewriters that only began to be used with email addresses.

They would say it when reading out their email address, exactly where I would normally say 'at'.

In China, it's called "circle a" (圈a), "flowery a" (花a), or "little mouse" (小老鼠). In Taiwan, it's most commonly called "little mouse"

Dating in Korea:

"Hey, really enjoyed talking to you! Can I have your email address?"

"Sure, it's john sea snail hotmail dot com."

"Oh. Great."

Well looks like it's time to move to Korea and launch seasnailhotmail.com

I would have mentioned that the purported Latin origin of the symbol is much closer to the English way of saying it. Some historians believe that the @ symbol fist appeared as a contraption of the word "ad", which loosely means "towards". Scribes may have altered the word by exaggerating the upstroke of the d. So at least on twitter, "at" is pretty consistent with the original meaning of the symbol.

I'm currently in Kashmir where everyone always says in full "... at the rate of..." in the middle of their email address. So far I've not met many twitter users.

For a very long time, I thought the "{" was called "birdwing" because that's how it was explained to me. When I try that now I get very odd looks.

Related: http://carlos.bueno.org/brackets-of-the-world.pdf

In Denmark the curly brackets are knows as tuborgklammer, literally Tuborg brackets. Tuborg is a danish brewery and the brackets are named after the roof of the cap on their old delivery trucks. http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3600/3516095666_fb53727c79_b.j...

See also the last page of: http://3e8.org/pub/intercal.pdf

'{' is 'embrace', '@' is 'whirlpool'

"I envy my colleagues that get to play with snails and monkeys while coding in Objective-C!"

All I can think is how much longer it must be to speak tweets aloud in other languages. As opposed to "at Jim Lipsey, at Gruber, at Chockenberry, at The Talk Show", now it's "chee-o-cho-la Jim Lipsey, chee-o-cho-la Gruber..."

Sounds like a mouthful already.

IIRC latin languages offset longer words by speaking generally more syllables per second. The information per time unit is roughly equal across languages. I don't think they actually realize that the word is long/awkward (or at least not to the same degree an English native speaker would realize).

That and the fact that in English there's always a little pause before, to let the listener understand you're spelling a very short word. Just listen next time someone says an email address. In italian not so much, so chiocciola is pronounced both very fast and without the need for a declarative pause. In the end it doesn't feel long at all.

In Finnish it is also informally known as "miukumauku", which refers to the cat-like appearance of the symbol (long tail). This name isn't very common anymore.

Fun fact about HN's bad visual design: submissions with very short titles typically get huge amounts of upvotes as people try to click on the submission link, and hit the upvote button by accident. Since you can't revoke upvotes for dumb submissions, the number climbs without limit.

I speak Russian as my first language. We use "sobaka" the Russian word for dog.

In Bulgaria this is called "Monkey" (маймунка) or "Monkey A" (маймунско А) i've also heard few people cal it "rose" (розичка)

Also, some people in Bulgaria call the '@' sign "кльомба".

An interesting story about this sign, is that it had been used in a medieval Bulgarian chronicle dated at 1345. In it, the @ symbol is part of the word 'Амин' (amen).


Both cute and interesting.

Note, however, that the article does not distinguish between what the sign is called, and how it is read. I call it an "at sign". I read it "at". Now, in Dutch it's called a monkey tail (said in Dutch, of course). But that may not be how it is read in Dutch.

I can think of a few English pictograms on the standard keyboard:

^ = Hat

* = Star

# = Hash

~ = Squiggle

{ = Curly

Spanish (Costa Rica) has some amusing ones:

    ^ = techito (little roof)
    * = asterisco
    # = gato (litteraly means cat, but refers to the game of gato(tick tack toe))
    ~ = rabo de chancho (pig's tail)
    : = dos puntos (two dots)
    ; = punto y coma (dot and comma)
    ' = comilla (little comma)

I personally use ~=tilde, and *=asterisk.

I don't see what 'hash' is a picture of. There is 'cross-hatching' in illustration, but that's not the same word (and it's specifically cross-hatching, not just hatching, where the lines generally align). Otherwise 'hash' is either a meat dish or a recreational drug, neither of which look much like #.

Indeed. If anything, it should be called "waffle".

^ and ~ are accents in latin languages.

This is what I've been told: "木 = wood, 林 = woods, 森 = forest". Quite intuitive. :)

In Hungary, we say "kukac", which means "worm" in english

I like commat from the prosign, it stems from its use in prices like 7 @ $4.

Also in Polish I encounter małpka (little or cute monkey) more than małpa (monkey), maybe that's a regional thing.

Very interesting read. As italian, I agree with our "exotic" gestures which follow the spelling of email addresses when it comes to 'chiocciola' (@)

Arobaz in French. But most people just say 'At'.

In Hebrew, the official name is Strudel (Wikipedia: "A type of layered pastry with a filling that is usually sweet")

Technically in Italian: lumaca is slug and chiocciola is snail, but people often improperly use lumaca for snail as well.

We also say "Arobas" in french.

French native here as well. I personnally say "at" when spelling out email addresses. "Arobase" ou "et commercial" are names of the symbol itself - not commonly used because one rarely has to name the symbol.

It is arobase, with an 'e' at the end.

In Greek, we call it "papaki". It means "duckling". I have no idea how that happened.

In Taiwan it's "小老鼠", which means "little mouse".

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