90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Brief History Of @

A giant "at" sign is shown in front of the ExciteAtHome headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. in 2001. (AP)

A giant “at” sign is shown in front of the ExciteAtHome headquarters in Redwood City, Calif. in 2001. (AP)

The digital age has made a celebrity of the “at” sign, but the symbol’s roots go far back.

According to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), in the 5th or 6th century monks used it as shorthand for the Latin word “ad” meaning “toward.”

In the 16th century, Venetian traders used it to represent a standard of measure.

Ray Tomlinson. @. 1971. Here displayed in ITC American Typewriter Medium, the closest approximation to the character used by a Model 33 Teletype in the early 1970s. (Courtesy MoMA)

Ray Tomlinson. @. 1971. Here displayed in ITC American Typewriter Medium, the closest approximation to the character used by a Model 33 Teletype in the early 1970s. (Courtesy MoMA)

The “at” sign then found its way onto the American Underwood typewriter, and it was later used in accounting and now has become the signifier of the digital age.

Now the MoMA says it has acquired the symbol for its permanent Architecture and Design collection.

Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design, explained what the acquisition means on MoMA.org:

The acquisition of @…relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that “cannot be had”—because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747’s, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @—as art objects befitting MoMA’s collection. The same criteria of quality, relevance, and overall excellence shared by all objects in MoMA’s collection also apply to these entities.

 

Guest:


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

    MoMA acquires the @ symbol for free but will charge you $25 to see it. I’ll wait until  it’s acquired by the Met where I can see it for free any time. In fact I’m thinking of donating my version of @ to the Met and asking for a plaque.

  • Laura

    Another interesting interpretion of the @ symbol: In modern Hebrew it’s called a “strudel” !

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

July 29 12 Comments

U.S. ‘Border Crisis’ In A Global Context

Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch says what the U.S. is seeing is dwarfed by the massive flow of refugees into other countries, such as Italy.

July 29 4 Comments

Iraq War Vet Returns To A Broken Country

Roy Scranton says what he found in Baghdad "shows the evidence of the truth of what we'd actually done."

July 28 5 Comments

Rob Reiner Reflects On Making Movies From ‘And So It Goes’ To ‘Princess Bride’

The actor and director has been making people laugh for decades.

July 28 4 Comments

New HBO Documentary ‘Love Child’ Looks At Gaming Addiction

"Love Child" tells the story of a South Korean couple whose baby starved to death while they cared for a virtual child.