Wednesday, February 04, 2009

@ Revisited

In a previous post, I discussed the grammalogue, or logogram, "@" which is ubiquitous in email addresses. I concluded that the proper term for this symbol is the "commercial at." Ah, if only 'twere so simple. From Michael Quinion's World Wide Words, I have learned of an abundance of colorful terms, often related to animal anatomy, which are applied to "@":
In German, it is frequently called Klammeraffe, “spider monkey” (you can imagine the monkey’s tail), though this word also has a figurative sense very similar to that of the English “leech” (“He grips like a leech”). Danish has grisehale, “pig’s tail”, but more often calls it snabel a, “a (with an) elephant’s trunk”, as does Swedish, where it is the name recommended by the Swedish Language Board. Dutch has apestaart or apestaartje, “(little) monkey’s tail” (the “je” is a diminutive); this turns up in Friesian as apesturtsje and in Finnish in the form apinanhanta. Finnish also has kissanhäntä, “cat’s tail” and, most wonderfully, miukumauku, “the miaow sign”. In Hungarian it is kukac, “worm; maggot”, in Russian “little dog”, in Serbian majmun, “monkey”, with a similar term in Bulgarian. Both Spanish and Portuguese have arroba, which derives from a unit of weight or volume that Professor Stabile suggests is closely related to that of the amphora — 25lb weight (just over 11kg) or six Imperial gallons (nearly 23 litres). In Thai, the name translates as “the wiggling worm-like character”. Czechs often call it zavináč which is a rolled-up herring or rollmop; the most-used Hebrew term is strudel, from the famous Viennese rolled-up apple sweet. Another common Swedish name is kanelbulle, “cinnamon bun”, which is rolled up in a similar way.

The most curious usage, because it seems to have spread furthest from its origins, whatever they are, is snail. The French have called it escargot for a long time (though more formal terms are arobase or a commercial), but the term is also common in Italian (chiocciola), and has recently appeared in Hebrew (shablul), Korean (dalphaengi) and Esperanto (heliko).
"Where It's At," by Michael Quinion
My previous post "@"


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