Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I just learned that today is National Punctuation Day. Oh, how pleasant it would be if more writers could and/or would use them properly.
Although @ is not punctuation outside e-mail addresses, I thought it an appropriate homage to proper punctuation.
@ is a symbol widely used in English that does not have a special name as do the ampersand (&), semicolon, (;) and period (.), etc. We call it the "at-sign" because it symbolizes the word at in price quotations. The origin of the symbol @ is the French preposition à "to, at, in" in expressions like: dix pommes à Euro "ten apples a Euro." The grave accent over this word lengthened over time until it completely embraced the A itself. Elsewhere in Europe, however, this symbol has taken on a myriad of highly inventive names. 
Fasten your seatbelts!  
Most Europeans see animals in the at-sign. The Dutch call it an apestaart "monkey's tail" while the Germans call it a Klammeraffe "spider monkey". I'll have to ask my expert on Swiss German if it is the same. Chances are it is not, as the Swiss like to have their own words for things. In Serbian the word is majmun "monkey" but their fellow Slavs, the Russians, see a dog in it, hence their word, sobachka "little dog". Finns call it kissanhäntä "a cat's tail". When they are hungry, Swedes see a kanelbulle "cinnamon bun" (best eaten at Ikea)  but after that, or a good meal, it's just a snabel-A "elephant-trunk A". The French and Italians see snails in @: the French call it an escargot and the Italians, a chiocciola.

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