What is the name for the @ sign?

I have a daily tear-off calendar entitled “Fact or Crap” which states for today, that the @ sign does not have a name in English. It goes on to say … “In German, it is called Klammeraffe, meaning a clinging monkey, and in Italy, it is referred to as chiocciola, which means snail.”

In another discussion on another blog I follow, they stated that the # symbol is called an octothorpe. I didn’t know that. I have referred to it as the pound sign (when it falls after a number) or the NUMBER symbol (when it falls before a number) or recently “hashtag” …

What say you?

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On Linecasters (Linotype, Intertype, Ludlow) it is called commercial, to long ago for me to remember if I used to have it on monotype.

in French ‘Arrobase’, in Spanish ‘Arrobar’ in Dutch ‘Apestaart’ (monkey’s tail). A quick check on Wikipedia: it has long been used in Spanish and Portuguese as an abbreviation of arroba, a unit of weight equivalent to 25 pounds, and derived from the Arabic expression of “a quarter” (الربع pronounced ar-rubʿ).


I’ve always called the @ sign “the ‘at’ sign”, since in commercial usage it abbreviated the word “at”. For example, “apples @ 65 cents/doz.” I know of no other name for it in English, but ” ‘at’ sign” seems sufficient.

As for the # sign, as far as I know it has several names, with no one of them preferable for all cases. I do as franklincreations does, referring to it as “pound”, “number”, or “hashtag” according to circumstances. This is the practice I recall from working as a publisher’s editor and in type shops. In the pressroom, of course, it was common for paper weights.

By the way, the # sign is also the proofreader’s mark for “space”. For example, “add # to fill depth”.

Unicode calls it “number sign”. “Pound sign” would be problematic in British usage, since they need that term for their currency. Apparently the Brits call it a “hash”.

Does anyone know what copyreaders called it? In some settings, a copyreader read out the copy to a proofreader, who checked the galley proof on the basis of what the copyreader uttered. In that practice, there were short, distinct names for specific symbols. I never learned those terms; I know that ! = “bang”, % = “ball”, & = “short and”.

I’ve seen “octothorpe”, but I’d guess that is a learned, speculative, or nonce creation that was never current in typographic or editorial use. I certainly never heard it in a professional setting. It may be recent and non-traditional, since OED doesn’t list it. This is borne out by the Wikipedia article “Number_sign”, which has much information on the symbol. The origin of the “thorpe” element is unclear. I always guessed it had something to do with “thorpe”, an Anglo-Saxon word for hamlet or farmstead, perhaps with the meaning of “fields”. This despite the fact that it shows nine fields, not eight. Perhaps the idea is a hamlet with eight surrounding fields. But this doesn’t fit well with the likely recent and technological origin for the word “octothorpe”.

It would be nice to have a single generic name for it, since many of us may use the sign in two or more senses. For my own use when confusion must be avoided, I always gave it the name “hatch”, but the British “hash” is a weightier precedent.

Does it have a silly, pseudo-latin name like ampersand or octothorpe? No. Does it have a name? Of course. It’s “at” or at most, “commercial at”. It doesn’t need any other name.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

The ampersand looks like this: &…


In Danish: Snabel a - an a with an elephant trunk :-)

in swedish snabel a.
as for a with an elephant trunk

In Norwegian, it is called ‘alfakrøll’, meaning ‘alphacurl’.

In English I use ‘at’, or ‘commercial at’.

I call the # either ‘pound’ or ‘hash’ depending on whether I’m in the US or not.

As a career journalist and past stylebook editor, this is one of those irresistible newspaper questions to try and stump the boss. On rare occasions, what to call “@” was the subject of potentially endless newsroom debates over how people “felt” it should be defined versus the actual definition. Lucky ones could wager a free cup of coffee out of the bet. :)

In the world of newspapers, it is properly called a “wrapped A.” Here in the South, there is a history to this definition. The etymology traces itself to the late and prominent Hot Springs, Ark., editor, Isabelle Peregrin, who previously wrote for the Detroit News and learned it there.

As a bulwark against modernistic phrases creeping into the world of printing, we don’t say that the colors aren’t in registration - we say that the color register is incorrect. Likewise, we don’t say “kloog,” but we learn how to pronounce it and say Kluge correctly.

Computer techs have given us “the at sign” as a common definition and, likely, it is here to stay. I would welcome my fellow printers here and elsewhere in joining me to address the “@” as the “wrapped A” … both to affirm it as a proper definition and as a further legacy of an outstanding female editor known for her grit as much as for her compassion.

“Wrapped A” does sound authentic.

I can testify to “register,” as opposed to “registration,” in the pressroom and the type shops.

Similarly, it was “indent” at the beginning of a paragraph, rather than “indentation” or “indention.” (I suppose that a paragraph might be said to have an “indentation” if you dropped a chase on the type.)

And, to correct myself in my previous post, “copy holder” was the usual term, though “copy reader” was not unknown. I still haven’t been able to find out how a copy holder called out a wrapped A, but on the basis of j archibald’s information, I’d pretty much bet on “wrapped A.”

All the years that I’ve been on both the production and management side of printing, we always called @ the “at” sign—simple and clean, and used in the commercial use on invoices and the like, it is pronounced as at, at least in my some 60+ years in the game in the U.S.

And when I’m being a little bit nasty towards the proud name of Kluge, I will pronounce it “kludge.” I talk to printers every day all across this country and abroad and pronounciation of especially trade names does vary some but generally everyone is in agreement.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned Keith Houston’s book _Shady Characters: Ampersands, Interrobangs and Other Typographical Curiosities_ (London: Particular Books / Penguin, 2013). It does have a chapter devoted to ‘@’, in which it covers, inter alia, the first known appearance of this symbol (1536), its introduction into the typewriter keyboard (1884), its presence and absence in various digital coding schemes, and its names in many languages (but no “wrapped a”). A fascinating and enjoyable book.

(And as printers you’ll be delighted to learn from the Amazon reviews that the Kindle version cannot render many of these “shady characters” legibly. :-)

David M.

An engineer from Bell Labs has taken the blame for ‘Octothorpe’. He claims that term was coined in jest to describe the use of the symbol on the newly created touch-tone keypad.


Bell Labs had a history of colourful characters and engineer humour easter eggs, so I find the story believable.

For an erudite and meticulously researched history of the @ sign (which has been known in the UK as the “commercial at” for more years than I care to recall) see the October 2013 entry in James Mosley’s “Typefoundry” blog at typefoundry.blogspot.co.uk

May I also recommend James’s “Typefoundry” blog more widely as a superb resource for printers, typographers and graphic designers.

An old thread, but a classic that can stand to be re-read.

The one that always irks me is the pronunciation of “logo” as in ‘symbol/trademark’ etc.

The original pronunciation was “log-o”,because it was a log of your mark. Somehow it degenerated into the now common pronunciation “low-go”. How low can you go????????


Logo is short for logotype, a word cast as a single piece of type, from the Greek “logos” (word). It came to include trade marks and symbols, now shortened to “logo”.

Asperand – I hadn’t used this since Printing College days, as a new customer had asked for these and I thought he had misspelt ampersand. All the old comps, etc. always called it the at-sign.
Harry McIntosh, Edinburgh

In a City of London commercial house in the 1950s, producing accountants multi- cash column analysis paper
(remember the ledger paper sizes anyone?) the sign now commonly called ‘at’ was known in that comp room then as ‘rate’. I think it would likely have been common in the printers in the square mile, bearing in mind that the comps moved about a little. Usually printed in the box at the top of the second or third column from the left. Who now remembers pen ruling?

Hickok pen ruling done annually at the Midwest Old Threshers’ Reunion and the Printers’ Fair in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.