Origins of the @

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From: Carey Lening (
Date: Fri Aug 11 2000 - 12:48:56 PDT

[Oh this is too bitful not to be included:) Enjoy.]

@ Sign Invented in Italy

By Rossella Lorenzi, News

Aug. 1, 2000 - An Italian scholar has discovered that "amphora," a word
referring to a weight unit used by ancient Greeks and Romans, is the real
name for the Internet's ubiquitous squiggle, the @ sign used in email
Giorgio Stabile, who teaches the history of science at Rome's La Sapienza
University, traced the origin of the @ sign to at least 500 years ago, when
Italian merchants invented it.
The evidence was hidden in the archives at the Francesco Datini Institute of
Economic History in Prato, near Florence: a letter written by Francesco
Lapi, a Florentine trader, on May 4, 1536, clearly shows what is the
earliest known example of the quintessential symbol of the Internet.
Describing the arrival in Spain of three ships bearing gold and silver from
Latin America, Lapi writes: "there an @ of wine, which is one thirtieth of a
barrel, is worth 70 or 80 ducats."
"In the document, the @ sign is the abbreviation for amphora, a measure of
capacity based on the terracotta jars used for transportation in the ancient
Mediterranean world," said Stabile, who will publish his finding in a book
for the Treccani Encyclopedia by the end of the year.
The sign has been a central part of the Internet since Ray Tomlinson chose
it as a separator in email addresses in 1972. Cybernauts of various
countries have given the sign nicknames from snail to strudel and monkey's
tail, but the @ sign was believed to derive from the Latin word "ad,"
meaning "to, toward, at."
The story goes that in late medieval cursive writing the upright stroke of
the "d" curved over to the left making a loop around the "a."
"This theory has no support from a paleographic point of view. In my
research, I ignored the metaphors related to the sign and considered the
only two denominations with a historical background: the English "commercial
at" and the Spanish "arroba," said Stabile.
Searching the commercial paleography, Stabile stumbled into a Spanish-Latin
dictionary of 1492: the word "arroba" was translated as "amphora," showing
that the amphora weight unit was known both in the Greek-Latin and in the
Arab-Hispanic world.
The amphora was long used as a measuring unit in Venice and along trade
Routes running to Northern Europe. There, it acquired its contemporary
commercial meaning, "at the price of."
"The story of the Latin roots of the sign was completely wrong," said
Armando Petrucci, professor of Latin Paleography at Pisa University.
"Finally, Stabile's discovery sheds light on the history of this successful

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