(Roughly) Daily

A Symbolic Achievement…

source: PaperBlog

Like the ampersand, the “@” symbol is not strictly a mark of punctuation; rather, it is a logogram or grammalogue, a shorthand for the word “at.”  Even so, it is as much a staple of modern communication as the semicolon or exclamation mark, punctuating email addresses and announcing Twitter usernames. Unlike the ampersand, though, whose journey to the top took two millennia of steady perseverance, the at symbol’s current fame is quite accidental. It can, in fact, be traced to the single stroke of a key made almost exactly four decades ago*

The whole story is @ Shady Characters (“The Secret Life of Punctuation”).

* Before it became the domain address marker– and the overall symbol– for email, “@” was used to denote the unit price (or weight) of an item:  10 books @ $1.00 would total $10.00…  the symbol is believed to have originated with medieval scribes who used the symbol to eliminate the two extra pen strokes that would have been necessary to write “at.”

As we check our spam filters, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958, in reaction to the Soviet’s Sputnik success the prior year, that Congress passed the legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)… the Space Race was on.  (ARPA [now DARPA]– the sponsor of the work that spawned the internet and birthed the “@” in the form in which we all now use it– was born the same year out of the same concern over Soviet scientific progress.)

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