Happy Birthday @

The @ symbol was used back in 1536 – 473 years ago today.

The Lede blog for the New York Times notes that today is the 473’d anniversary of the first recorded use of the @ symbol.

It’s found in a letter from a Florentine merchant and, from the context, presumably the use of the @ symbol was in common enough use even then not to require further explanation. The Guardian also has details from back in 2000 with the guess that older @ documents may exist.

Or maybe it’s the 472’d anniversary – according to Wikipedia the letter is dated 1537.  Whatever the year it’s as good an excuse as any for a celebratory drink.

In English it’s known as the ‘at symbol’.  Microsoft Word calls it ‘Commercial AT’ while the Italians call it a ‘snail’ and southern slavs a ‘monkey’.

Office Watch has talked about the rules for an email address and noted the decision by Ray Tomlinson (just himself without a committee – those were the days) to use the @ symbol in email addresses.  It’s a pity that Ray can’t remember the first emails he sent, but then he had no idea his little coding exercise would be the basis for a worldwide communications revolution.

The @ symbol has many other uses than just email addresses and separating quantities from prices .. the Wikipedia article lists over twenty different uses.  The most recent being @ at Twitter.

Where is it?

Some non-English keyboards don’t have the @ symbol, much to the confusion of visitors in Internet cafe’s.  Usually the symbol is hiding somewhere else on the keyboard instead of the spot we are used to above the ‘2’ key.

The alternatives if you’re stuck are

  • Copying the @ symbol from an existing email address in another message.
  • Holding down the  Alt key then typing the digits  0064 on the numberpad (not the top row digits)
  • using the Character Map accessory.  This is in all versions of Windows.  For Windows XP go to Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools.


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