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The ‘at’ symbol is at least 477 years old.

It may be hard to imagine, but there was life before email and Twitter, at least in the case of this curvy character. The first documented use of the ampersat, as it’s informally known, was in 1536. In a letter, Florentine merchant Francesco Lapi employed @ to represent amphorae, or clay vessels used to store wine. It evolved to mean “at the rate of” and appeared on typewriters as far back as the late 19th century. Things came full circle in 1971, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson invented email. “When I selected @ for separating name from computer, it was a relatively unused character,” he says. “Now, in some sense, it signifies what the Internet has become.” Is it safe to say @ has successfully made the transition from symbol to icon? All signs point to yes.

 

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