Where does the @ come from?

How many people can really say they know how the Earth was created?

How many people know the story that led to the birth of the Internet?

And who knows the story behind the @?


While you may have managed to answer the first two questions, you were probably stumped by the third question. In fact, the tale of the famous e-mail symbol is a little known story but no less interesting.

Indeed, did you know that the symbol of our e-mails has ancient origins?


According to reliable evidence, the first appearance of the at sign dates back to the 16th century.

The “@” symbol, the exact same one we use in our e-mail addresses, was used for the first time in a business letter written in May 1536 by a Florentine merchant as an abbreviation for the amphora, a measuring unit (roughly 26 litres) used in ancient Greece and the Roman Republic.

From that document on, the use of the symbol began to spread all throughout the Mediterranean basin up to the Middle and Near East, passing along the trade routes of Northern Europe and entering into the Anglo-Saxon commercial alphabet meaning “at”.

It moved from merchant to computer jargon with the American engineer and programmer, Ray Tomlinson. While developing an e-mail system for the ARPANET network (the forefather of the Internet) in the early 70s, he was searching for a distinct symbol to separate the recipient’s name from the pathway leading to the host server.

Tomlinson chose this strange “symbol” for the infrequency of its use and for its meaning of “at” to indicate the computer where the recipient “resides”.


From then on, we find the “curled @” in e-mail boxes all around the world.


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