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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

When Do You Pronounce the @?

The use of an @ symbol before someone’s name has raised an interesting question about pronunciation: If the @ only indicates that something is a response, do you pronounce it? For example, if you were looking at a tweet addressed to me, and reading it out loud, would you begin by saying “at Grammar Girl” or simply “Grammar Girl”?

It’s something of an open question, but the examples in the newest Associated Press Stylebook seem to indicate that they would say the “at” because in writing they refer to a name styled with the at symbol as “an @reply” and a mention as “an @mention”—the use of “an” instead of “a” indicates that they’re pronouncing the @. Do you pronounce the @? Did you know that it meant a reply before this podcast? Leave a comment below to let me know.

And as for the museum acquiring the symbol, it's more of a metaphorical acquisition. Even though it can't be physically owned, they still think it's worth telling the story, so all they mean by “acquiring” is that they're setting up an exhibit. 

Image: At Sign, Steve Snodgrass at Flickr. CC BY 2.0 Generic.

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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.

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