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Of email and cultural differences

Of email and cultural differencesEmail use has become so ubiquitous that it's easy to assume that its use and customs are universal. But not so. Two items recently drove home the point of how local email usage is.

First, I came across the innocent question "What do you call the little symbol in your email address?" on the Global Lingo Blog. Hmmm, good question!

In many non-English languages, @ was much less common before email and is often seen in as being integrally linked to "The Internet", computerization, or maybe modernization in general. Who would suspect that @ is more than 500 years old?

It's interesting to note the following sample usages:

  • The French go with escargot which translates as snail.
  • The Dutch, use apestaartje (monkey's tail).
  • Germans used to call it something similar - klammeraffe (spider monkey) but the English "at" is gaining ground.
  • Danes refer to it as grisehale (pig's tail) or snabel (with an elephant's trunk).
  • In Georgian it is "at" (using the English pronunciation).
  • Hungarians see it as the worm or maggot, kukac.
  • The Hebrew term is strudel, after the pastry.
  • In Korean it is called golbaeng-i, a small freshwater snail with no tentacles.
For a list of country-specific usages, check out Wikipedia.

Speaking of Korean, that brings us to the second item. In a recent discussion on LinkedIn [free registration required], Joshua Choi recounted some examples of local email customs:
In Korea, we use "k k k" which is not "kill kill kill" or "Ku Klux Klan" but for a sound of laughing. We also use "^^" for smiling eyebrows, and ^^; for smiling and sweating (when you are smiling but little embarrased). I heard "555" means "ha ha ha" in Thailand, and 555+ means "loud laughing". I also heard @+ means "see you" in France.
Together with the responses that the query generated, one could develop a "mini international guide to email acronyms" - ROTFL!

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  1. Translation Paris said...
    In France, see you is written A+ not @+.

    Anna Augustin
    Cath said...
    In France,
    1) I've never heard of "escargot" (snail) for @
    We call it "arobase" in daily life.
    Some call it "at", as in English.
    About the etymological origin of "arobase", those who understand French may read this very interesting article here :
    2) Anna is partially right.
    "à plus" is the abbreviation of "à plus tard", a colloquial salutation which indeed means "see you later" and is very frequently used verbally, as "see you" is.
    In writing, particulatly in e-mails and SMS, it is abbreviated as "A+". But, it has been more and more often transforming into "@+" for years. Now, this is a very widely, if not the most, used form of salutation.
    @+ :-) Catherine
    Milengo said...
    Klammeraffe -- I am a native English speaker living and working in Berlin, Germany for a translation company. Confirming: the English "at" has taken over.

    Tammi L Coles
    Milengo.com. Translations for a working world.
    Effie said...
    In Greece we call it "papaki" which is a little duck, don't ask me why, I have no idea.

    pfm1000 said...
    Some time ago I saw it being referred to in English as "whirlpool". I often used "whirlpool" in telephone conversations to explicate the "at" symbol.
    Mario Beer said...
    To Cath
    "Arobase" is a relatively recent re-discovery; no one over fifty or so knew it before the e-mail era (except, of course, typographers.) As for the continued and consistent use of "snail", that happens in Italian. Chiocciola.
    Cath said...
    To Effie :
    "Papaki"! I love it, and I adopt it.
    Not sure that clients and colleagues will understand what I mean, but sincerely that sounds so nice and funny, as a children's tale character name :-)
    Cath said...
    To Mario :
    Typographers and ...Antiquity lovers!
    Cath said...
    Here is a French article about the entry of the arobase in the MoMA of New York. The well-known museum mentions the "design power" of this universal symbol to justify this decision. The exhibition takes into account all ancient and newer meanings of the symbol.
    Andres Heuberger said...
    @Cath: Thank you for the great articles!

    Here is to all the snails and ducks and monkey tails out there :-)
    SCarpenter said...
    in Portuguese @ is called arroba

    I recall seeing it in commercial rosters, listing prices

    : an old Spanish unit of weight equal to about 25 pounds
    : an old Portuguese unit of weight equal to about 32 pounds
    Origin of ARROBA

    Spanish & Portuguese, from Arabic al-rubʽ, literally, the quarter
    First Known Use: 1555

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