Raymond Tomlinson, the man who invented email, introduced the @ symbol into our electronic communications. Every time you give someone or something your email address, you’re using his invention. But Tomlinson didn’t invent the @—that honor lies somewhere long before he was born. It’s unclear still how the circle found its way around the a, but during the Renaissance, the symbol slowly crept into texts as a way to denote how much something cost per unit. So you might see something like: “10 loaves of bread @ 25 pence each.” For hundreds of years, the symbol was mostly used by merchants, and nobody else. Fast forward to 1971, and Tomlinson borrowed the symbol to mean “located at” in an email address. And that’s how we mainly use the symbol today.
If you’re reading this from the United States, you probably know the @ as the “at” symbol. But in other parts of the world, that’s not always how they refer to the little squiggly a. Here are some of the other ways of referring to our friendly email address signifier.
1. Italians see a tiny snail.
The Italians call the symbol a chiocciola or a “snail,” to describe its spiral shape.
2. Hungarians see a worm.
In Hungarian, the @ is likened to a wiggly earth-eater and called a kukac, which means “little worm” or “maggot.”
3. Armenians think the @ is a cute little dog.
Armenians call the @ ishnik, or “puppy.”
4. Germans have a specific monkey in mind for the @ symbol.
German slang calls the symbol klammeraffe, or “spider monkey,” which is delightfully specific in the way you expect from Germans.
5. The Dutch also see a monkey, but a less specific one.
The Dutch have a similar nickname to the Germans: They call it an apestaart or “monkey’s tail.” No specific species this time.
6. and 7. In Danish you get two animal parts to choose from: a pig’s tail or an elephant’s trunk.
In Danish, the @ gets two names, both animal in origin. Sometimes, it’s a grisehale or “pig’s tail.” But most of the time it’s a snabel or “elephant’s trunk.”
8. The Taiwanese see a mouse.
In Taiwanese, the @ symbol is called 小老鼠 or “little mouse.”
9. When it comes to the @ symbol, Israelis have food on the brain.
To Israelis, the @ is often called a שטרודל, or a “strudel,” as in the delicious layered pastry.
10. In Czech and Slovak, the @ also points to food.
In Czech and Slovak, the @ symbol is called a zavináč or rollmops. For those uninitiated, a rollmop is a fillet of pickled herring, rolled up around a savory filling, often olives or pimentos.
11. In Swedish, the @ is all about the sweet buns.
Swedish has a few names for the @, but one of them is kanelbulle or “cinnamon bun.”
12. The Chinese see the @ as fancy.
The Chinese have a couple of different ways of referring to @ but one of them is 花A or “flowery A.”
13. In Serbian, the @ is wild.
In Serbian, the @ has gotten out of hand, and is called лудо А or “crazy A.”
14. and 15. Vietnam has two names for the @ symbol: bent and hooked.
The Vietnamese have different names for the @ in the northern and southern bits of the country. In the North, @ is A còng or “bent A,” and in the south, the @ is A móc or “hooked A.”
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.