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i and e


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This note considers signals and symbols.

It covers -

  • this page - an introduction to the @ symbol
  • i and e - a discussion of i-, e- and 2.0 naming
  • emoticons - the nature of emoticons

It supplements discussion elsewhere on this site regarding naming, messaging and the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

subsection heading icon     the @ symbol

A 2001 Industry Standard article offered a short, rather whimsical history of the '@' symbol, highlighting differing metaphors in various countries for what the ISO characterises as the 'commercial at' symbol. Five countries characterise it simply as the 'at sign'; others see it as an animal or food.

Germans for example see it as a monkey tail (the 'klammeraffe'). In French ('petit escargot'), Italian ('chiocciola'), Hebrew ('shablul') and Esperanto ('heliko') it is a snail. The Swedes supposedly characterise it as the cinnamon bun ('kanelbulle'), Hungarians as a worm ('kukac'), Chinese as a little mouse, Russian as a little dog, Czechs as the rolled pickled herring ('zavinàc') and Norwegians as a pig's tail. The Finns win the prize with 'miukumauku' - the "sign of the meow" - inspired by a curled-up, sleeping cat.

Giorgio Stabile claims that it derives from the amphora as a unit of volume or weight in late mediaeval Florentine bookkeeping, adopted in northern Europe as an abbreviation for 'at the price of' before becoming part of the standard keyboard set at the turn of last century.

There is a more rigorous account in Karl-Erik Tallmo's essay Where It's @, highlighted in the Typography page of our Print profile, and a note by Michael Quinion.

The symbol has been assimilated into branding and popular culture. In 2007 for example a Chinese couple reportedly tried to name their baby '@', claiming the symbol - pronounced as ai ta (love him) echoed their love for the infant.

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version of August 2007
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics