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The @ sign: Here are 7 things you didn’t know about proboscis-a

The Chronicle of Manasseh
Chronicle of Manasseh, 1345.

1. First known proboscis-a in writing

Snabel-a may today be synonymous with email and crazies on Twitter, but the sign has a much longer history than that. The first reference to “@” has been found in a Bulgarian translation of a Greek work from the year 1345 (see image above). In this work, @ is used instead of capital A in “amen”.

“If I have to type ‘ad’ one more time, I’ll pull.”

2. Who invented proboscis-a?

There are several theories about where the @ sign came from. One claims that it was monks in the Middle Ages who used @ to abbreviate the Latin word “ad”. It may seem a bit lax, but since thousands and thousands of Bible texts had to be copied, papyrus was very expensive and the word “ad” was used extremely often, they were able to save space, ink and money.


3. Snabel-a today

In 1971, snabel-a got the meaning we are used to today. Engineer Ray Tomlinson worked on something called SNDMSG which was an early form of email. He chose @ because it was a character that no one used in their usernames on the computer, thus minimizing the risk of the email address being mistaken for a username. The classic “username@name” address was born!


4. “@” is a patented trademark

Since 2012, the company @TELL has registered @ with the German Patent Office. Although it could mean that no companies are allowed to use @, so far no one has been accused of trademark infringement for using @. Should a company with a similar business idea start using @ in its company name, it will have to look at other buns (fun fact: Cinnamon bun is slang for proboscis-a).

Next page: Snails, pastries and monkeys – that’s how the world interprets Snabel-a


5. Spanish “hen”

In Spanish and Portuguese, among others, masculine words are written with an “o” at the end and feminine words with an “a”. There is no gender-neutral form. One way to change words to gender-neutral form is to insert an @ sign. An example is “amigos” which means friends, but the form is masculine. If you don’t want to refer only to male friends, you can instead make the word neutral by writing “amig@s”.


6. @narki!

The symbol for anarchy is an A inside an O. A stands for anarchy and O stands for order. To write it on the computer, Unicode U+24B6 is used, which becomes Ⓐ. An easier way to quickly represent it on the computer or mobile has become to simply, you guessed it, use a proboscis-a instead.

“Is it allowed to be a proboscis-a for the coffee?”

7. Snails, pastries and monkeys – this is how the world interprets proboscis-a

In Sweden it is known as “snabel-a”; we see it as an a with a proboscis. Or a cinnamon roll. In other countries they see other things. Here are some examples:

  • South Africa. In Afrikaans the sign is called “aapstert” which means monkey tail.
  • Armenia. Here the sign is called “shnik” which means puppy.
  • Israel. In Hebrew, the sign is known as “shtrudel” because the sign looks like one strudel pastry in cross-section.
  • Hungary. Here the sign is compared to one maskor “kukac” as it is called in Hungarian.
  • Greece. In Greek it is called “papaki” which means duckling.
  • Taiwan. Here the proboscis is called “xiǎo lǎoshǔ” and means “little mouse“.
  • Belarus. Snabel-a is here called “ślimak” which means snail.

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