at sign – part of every email address
The at sign is not an invention of the Internet, because the character itself has been known for several centuries. The exact origin can no longer be traced today, there are various theories for this. The at sign plays the most important role in e-mail traffic, because the @ is an integral part of every email address.
Use of the at sign
The @ sign means something like “at”, which goes back either to the English “at” or the Latin “ad”. In an email address, the character separates the name of the recipient and the name of the domain to which the e-mail address belongs. A person is thus addressed “at” a specific domain. The @ is often also understood as an Internet symbol. However, this equivalent exists only in German-speaking countries, where the at sign had no meaning until the beginning of email traffic in the 1970s. In the English-speaking world, the symbol was already established in language usage with various meanings before that time. Therefore, people here do not automatically associate the @ sign with the Internet. The at sign finds still further applications in the EDP-technical range:
- Operator for position specifications in certain BASIC dialects and dBASE
- Error control operator in the programming language PHP
- Start of DCL command procedures in the operating system OpenVMS
The at sign as part of company names
Whether it is allowed to use the at sign in company names is controversial. One company recently had the @ in a company name protected by the DPMA. In certain industries, such as spices, beverages or tobacco, the at sign may not be used for company names. However, it is still unclear whether commercial registers may refuse to register such company names, as even the regional courts are in disagreement on this issue.
The at sign in computer systems
In addition to the @ spelling, there are numerous different spellings of the character in computer systems. In HTML, the at sign is encoded as “@” (hexadecimal) or “@”. If the character is not available on a keyboard, it can be created by the key combination Alt-Gr + 6 + 4. The Unicode character encoding system includes the @ in the U+0040 position and refers to it as a bracket monkey or commercial at. On most national and international keyboards, the at character is accessible as a third assignment of another key. On German MF2 keyboards, this is the Q key, so the character is created by pressing Alt-Gr and Q simultaneously.
On the Internet, the at sign is often spelled differently. Instead of @ you find strings like [at] or (at). This is to prevent an email address from being immediately recognized as such by automatic robots that search the Internet for e-mail addresses for sending spam mails.
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