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Where did the @ symbol come from?

-- Lance, Chula Vista

We have some late-breaking news on the "at" symbol, or "commercial a" symbol, whichever you choose to call it. Time was that linguists thought it was a contraction of the Latin word ad (to, toward, or at), curling the stem of the D back over the A. But some busy Italian scholar recently unearthed an early use of the symbol, from 500 years ago in commercial records, where the at sign stood for "amphora," a unit of volume for grain, wine, oil, and the like. (An amphora is a type of clay jar used since ancient times to ship edibles.) The embellished A for amphora eventually came to stand for "at the price of" in Western Europe and the U.S. It muscled its way into more modern Western life via the typewriter keyboard. The rest of the world had to wait for the advent of the Internet and email to learn about it. Depending on where you live around the world, you might refer to the little spot as a snail, bun, pig/monkey/dog's tail, leech, worm, or rolled herring.

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