Where you @?

The at sign: this little guy almost went the way of the Dodo (extinct!), but is now back in full force and considered an indespensible symbol for communication. 

There are a few theories for the shape of the symbol, but no one is really sure why this little "a" got a super curly tail. The at sign first appeared in a letter written by a Florentine merchant in 1536 to indicate units of wine. For a few centuries after its introduction, the at sign continued to be used by merchants and the business world as a shorthand symbol for pricing. Then as technology developed, a key to create "@" was not included because it didn't seem needed, most notably in punch card systems and typewriters. 

Then in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971, Ray Tomlinson of BBN Technologies was looking for a symbol to use to connect computer programers with one another and send messages. He decided on the rarely used "@" and its use in modern communication has been exponentially growing ever since! (For more details on this history of the at sign, the Smithsonian wrote a great article!)

As the need and use for the at sign has grown, it has developed a lot of different, fun and descriptive names across the world. The artist Andres Lozano was commissioned by Viking to create some illustrations based on some of those names - and they are really cool! Check them all out here on Viking's blog!

One of the many illustrative examples of the many names of the at sign throughout the world. Art by Andres Lozano; posted on Viking's blog.

One of the many illustrative examples of the many names of the at sign throughout the world. Art by Andres Lozano; posted on Viking's blog.

ACTIVITY

Imagine Your Own Name for "@"!

Use Andres Lozano's fun illustrations to inspire your kids to create their own designs and names for the at sign! Here's a global dialogue about the at sign started by The Guardian for inspiration. Some incredible creations are sure to manifest. Happy creating!