An ode to @

The @ symbol is so hot right now – almost as hot as block letters filled with a scribble effect. It’s so in that the New York Museum of Modern Art has added it to the Architecture and Design collection. Go @.

Here are some @ facts:

Let’s start by looking at the @. No one knows for sure when it first appeared. One suggestion is that it dates to the sixth or seventh century when it was adopted as an abbreviation of “ad,” the Latin word for “at” or “toward.” (The scribes of the day are said to have saved time by merging two letters and curling the stroke of the “d” around the “a.”) Another theory is that it was introduced in 16th-century Venice as shorthand for the “amphora,” a measuring device used by local tradesmen.

Whatever its origins, the @ appeared on the keyboard of the first typewriter, the American Underwood, in 1885 and was used, mostly in accounting documents, as shorthand for “at the rate of.” It remained an obscure keyboard character until 1971 when an American programmer, Raymond Tomlinson, added it to the address of the first e-mail message to be sent from one computer to another.