The ‘@’ symbol’s lack of a suitably inspiring English name has generated some interest from Shady Characters readers. Not for us ‘spider monkey’, ‘rollmop herring’ or ‘rose’; instead, we’re stuck with ‘commercial at’, or even plain old ‘at’. Joseph Chow (@josephch) suggests ‘atra’ to rectify the situation, writing that:
I think we do need something in the middle between ‘commercial at’ and just ‘at’. Former is too long, and latter in some contexts can be confused with the normal word ‘at’.”
Independently, Josh Farmer wrote to propose the oddly similar term ‘aterra’. As he writes at his blog Opinionated Type:
In my opinion, the name for the @ symbol should have several qualities:
- Soft vowel sounds, such as the ‘a’ in “at”.
- Clarity and simplicity: the feeling of, “That makes sense.”
- Seeing its current use in culture, it might be good to have it reference a location.
So I’ll start it off with a suggestion: aterra (pronounced uh-tehr’-uh).
On a different note, Brian Raiter recounts a story behind the unusual alias ‘astatine':
On a class bulletin board (the real kind, not the electronic kind), […] some anonymous person averred that the formal name for @ was “astatine”. I was quite excited to learn this, at first anyway. But a nagging suspicion sent me to the dictionary to double-check. To be sure, astatine really is a word, but it is the name of a chemical element (in fact it is the rarest naturally-occuring element on the planet, due in part to its brief half-life). […] I checked [a dictionary] to see if it had an entry for “at sign”. And suddenly everything became clear to me. There, just after the extensive entry for the word “at”, was the following line:
At symbol: astatine
I had forgotten, you see, that the one- and two-letter abbreviations for the chemical elements that you find on the periodic table are technically known as “chemical symbols”. Astatine’s symbol was At (since arsenic had already claimed As).
What do you think? Does ‘atra’ or ‘aterra’ capture the inherent ‘at’-ness of the ‘@’, or is ‘astatine’ a worthy name for the symbol?
Shady Characters’ next series of articles will begin in three weeks’ time, and it’s going to be a big one. Come back on the 4th of September for Irony and sarcasm marks, part 1 of 3.