The @ found its way into the Roman alphabet thanks to Mediterranean traders, who borrowed it from Arabic script to denote a 25-pound weight measure, something called an arroba. @ is still called an arroba in many Latin languages, with variations such as the Catalan arrova and French arobase.

Of course, many languages, Arabic, Chinese, Farsi (Iran), Finnish, Greek, Indonesian, Japanese, Hebrew, Norwegian and of course English, just say "at", or their linguistic equivalent. But there are often two or more words in any language that refer to @. In English, @ had notoriously few uses before email was invented, but was sometimes used as an abbreviation of "alias" or "also known as" ("Wanted: William H. Bonney @ Billy the Kid").

As a throwback to the qwerty typewriter, some languages refer to @ as a "commercial a" (Estonian, French, Italian, Lithuanian, Russian). In French and Norwegian it is called a "curled a", while in Serbian it is called a "crazy a" (ludo).

But many languages call it like they see it, taking their cues from the shape of the @ symbol, often seeing an ear; in Arabic languages @ is often informally called uthun, in German Ohr, and in Turkish kulak. Swedes are more specific, seeing an elephant's ear, so call @ elefantora.

Turks see a rose (gül); in addition, their word for horse is at, so @ is also known as a "horse".

Other countries call @ their linguistic equivalent of "danish pastry": Catalan ensaimada, Hebrew shtrudel, Swedish kanelbulle, Russian plyushka.

Only the Czechs and Slovaks call it a coiled herring (zavinac).

There are lots of other linguistic references to animals, too. Russians call @ "little dog" (sobachka). Greeks call @, among other things, papaki (duckling).

Plenty of languages see a snail, and so in French @ is escargot, Italian chiocciola, Korean dalphaengi, Indonesian keong, and Hebrew shablul.

The Chinese and the Finns sometimes see a mouse, while the Swedes see a cat with its tail curled around its body. Swedish has kattsvans while the Finns have at least three names for @: kissanhäntä, 'cat tail'; miaumerkki, 'meow sign' and miukumauku, which is sort of like 'meow-meow'.

In Polish, they sometimes just call @ ogon, 'tail'.

And let it not be overlooked that many languages see a monkey in the @ symbol! In Bulgarian @ is majmunsko (a 'monkey a') while other languages just say monkey: Polish malpa, Russian obezyana, Serbian majmun and Slovenian afna. Still others say "monkey tail": Dutch apestaartje, Finnish apinanhäntä, Serbian majmunski rep, Swedish apsvans. In German @ is also monkey, Affenschwanz, or sometimes the specific species Klammeraffe, 'clinging monkey, or 'spider monkey'.

Source: William Z. Shetter @