Everybody who has sent an e-mail at least once in his life knows it: the at-sign. But only few people know that it was already used in the Middle Ages. From a special character to a letter to a practical tool on the Internet, the at sign is internationally widespread and has a variety of uses. These are dependent on the respective written language as well as the area of application.
In our guide, we explain how to type the @ on your keyboard and what to do if it doesn’t work for you. In addition, we clarify the question of where the at sign actually comes from and what it is used for today.
What is an at sign?
The at sign is one of the most widely used special characters in existence. Alternatively, it is also used bracket monkey, monkey swing or – a bit more professionally – Commercial "a" called.
It is used in most cases as a placeholder and control character. A control character is a character that is used for addressing, message delimitation or connection establishment. The at sign has become so popular mainly because of its use in e-mail addresses. No address comes without the commercial "a from. Since it separates the user name from the domain name, it is often referred to as a separator. We will go into more detail about the use of the at-sign in e-mail addresses later on, though.
As a special character, the at sign can be entered via the keyboard. Depending on the keyboard, a different key combination must be selected. You can usually reach your destination by using the combination of the keys [AltGr] + [Q] or [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [Q]. On Apple keyboards, select the combination [Alt] + [L]. Depending on the actuality of your used keyboard, however, this input form can also slightly differ.
The at-sign in the e-mail
As mentioned at the beginning, the at sign usually appears in connection with Emails at. It allows to distinguish the personal part from the machine part of an e-mail address. For example, let’s use the e-mail address [email protected] for illustration.de. The "Mustermann stands for the personal part. You can choose it yourself and therefore it is also called username. Everything that comes after the at sign, i.e. in our example "Firma.de" Describes the domain, i.e., the machine-related part. Every e-mail address must therefore necessarily have an at sign.
The emergence of the at sign
The at sign was first used in connection with electronic mail in 1971. From the English term Electronic Mail By the way, the international term e-mail is also derived from the word "mail. However, the origin of the special character goes back much further.
In expert circles different theories circulate over the emergence of the at-sign and to hundred per cent sure is thereby nobody, who used it now first. But some of these hypotheses are very plausible and give at least a little bit more information about the origin of the At-sign. One thing is for sure: The at-sign was already in use when there was no at-sign for a long time World Wide Web.
The at sign in the Middle Ages
The linguistic research, which deals with the origin of the at-sign, has come to the conclusion that the today daily used special character already existed in the Middle ages was used. It originated from the fusion of the letters a and d. In such a case one speaks of a ligature. The word "ad comes from Latin and means in German as much as "zu", „an" or "at". It was also used as an abbreviation in earlier times. So you found it in Italy already in the 16. Century as a hollow unit of measurement on historical letters.
But also a ligature from the French wordà is a conceivable origin of the at sign among linguists. This word can still be found today in the German language, for example in the phrase "zwei Stuckà" 100 grams. So it corresponds to the meaning "at 100 grams each".
The at-sign and the Moors
There is also a theory that the Moors introduced the at sign to the Iberian Peninsula. A proof for this are wine and olive barrels, which carry this sign. Therefore, it may have played a major role in trade, as Spanish, Portuguese and French merchants adopted the use of the sign.
Here the measure plays called"arroba“ a big role. Coming from the Arabic language it means something like a quarter. This unit was therefore abbreviated with an at-sign. Even today, the at sign is still called "arroba" in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries named.
The at sign in London
In England we now write the 19. Century. Here the at-sign also gets its name "Commercial a". The origin of this were discount signs, on which for example the inscription "10 apples at 10 pence" could be found found. For simplified spelling, the merchant ligature "10 apples @ 10 pence" was finally used launched. As the at sign gained more and more popularity through this change in spelling, it was found on English typewriters as early as the 1880s.
The first use of the at-sign in technology
The at sign has existed for a long time, but we were still far away from the use we know today. In 1971, e-mail was finally invented. Ray Tomlinson was the sender of the first electronic letter. To do this, however, he was still looking for a suitable character to insert between the user name and the computer name. Since the at sign was largely unused by then, but already available on the keyboard, he decided to use it. It was also appropriate that the domain name at that time described the mainframe of a company or an institute. So the sender of an e-mail was the name @ company name, which immediately told the recipient which company the sender worked for.
Today’s uses of the at sign
Even today, the at sign is most often used in connection with e-mails. Since every e-mail address must contain this special character, it is inevitable to find the at-sign on one’s own keyboard. How you can enter the at-sign most easily, you will learn later, in which we will give you tips and tricks around the commercial "a" explain.
But not only as a separator between user name and domain name the at-sign is used today. In the English language area it is often used colloquially for the word "at" used. We will give you an example to illustrate this: The sentence "I am at home.“ ("I am at home.“) is colloquially also often called "I am @ home.“ written. In text chats such a spelling is used most often.
Also for the direct Addressing a person the at sign can be very useful. Especially in forums, chat rooms or other spaces of electronic correspondence, where there are more than two people, the use of the at-sign makes perfect sense. Here it is put right in front of the name of the person you want to address directly.
Certain Messenger such as WhatsApp now even support the function that the person addressed receives a separate notification if an at sign has been placed in front of the name by the sender. The social network Facebook supports this function also with the comment function or with the creation of a contribution. Put an at-sign here in front of a name, mark this person, so that he will be notified. In a comment history with multiple interlocutors, this function primarily brings clarity to who you want to address with your comment. The simplification of addressing individual persons in this form is regulated in DIN 5008. According to this standard, the at sign is at the beginning of the line, which is followed by a space, the name and a colon. In some cases, the bold printing of this character string has proven to be effective.
The At-sign stands in many places also symbolically for the Internet as a whole. Although it wasn’t associated with electronic communication and technology from the beginning, it really became popular with the Internet boom. Even today, the at sign is always associated with e-mail traffic or the Internet.