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Where Did the @ Symbol Come From?

Why does it look like a snail?

By
Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #305

@ on Keyboards

A book called Managing Web Usage in the Workplace tells of examining pictures of old typewriters and finding that it was relatively common for the @ symbol to be included on the keyboard starting around 1880.

@ for E-mail Addresses

Ray Tomlinson first used the “at” symbol to format an e-mail address using ARPAnet in 1971 for a message he sent to himself from one computer to another to test the system, and amusingly, he's repeatedly been quoted as saying he doesn't remember what message said—it was just some forgettable test message—because he didn't think it was a big deal at the time.

@ on Twitter

More recently, if you use Twitter, you know that you indicate a reply to someone by prefacing his or her name with the @ symbol, but it wasn't that way in the early days of Twitter. Users started putting @ before someone's name to indicate that it was a reply, and the people at Twitter noticed and wrote it into the system so that when you hit the reply link, it automatically inserts the @ symbol. Lately, it’s been showing up more as a general symbol to indicate a response. For example, people use it in the comments section to indicate that they’re responding to someone who posted earlier.

Next: How Do You Pronounce @?

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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