The ‘@’, or “at symbol,” is the internet’s ultimate comeback kid. First used during the Renaissance as a shorthand for “amphora,” a unit of volume named after Greek and Roman storage jars, ‘@’ had its own rebirth in 1971 with the creation of email. Working on ARPANET, the internet’s predecessor, a young engineer named Ray Tomlinson had jury-rigged a program that let him leave a message for a user on another machine. The problem that remained was how to address these messages: gazing down at the clunky keyboard of the terminal before him (barely changed from the typewriters that had emerged at the turn of the century), Tomlinson chose the little-used ‘@’ to separate the addressee’s name from the computer on which the message was to be left. History was made.
Now Twitter, which prefixes usernames with an ‘@’, has propelled the at symbol to even greater stardom. Its own renaissance is complete.
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