The mystery over the @ sign


‘The @ character is the symbol of the internet age, crucial for emails and social networking. But no-one really knows where it came from, writes Claire Bates.

The “at sign” was once an obscure symbol known only to book-keepers. That changed thanks to Ray Tomlinson, the man widely regarded as the inventor of the email.

He plucked it from his keyboard in 1971 to go between the user name and destination address when sending a message between two computers in his office. Tomlinson chose @ because it was then rarely used in computing, so wouldn’t confuse early programs or operating systems. In a happy coincidence, the English name of the symbol was already “at”.’

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