Acquiring the @ Symbol
New York's Museum of Modern Art has made an unusual acquisition. According to a blog post by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of the museum's Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA has acquired the @ symbol.
Of course, it's not really possible for a museum to "acquire" a typographical element used the world over. Antonelli's announcement is a deliberately playful subversion of the whole idea of artistic acquisition:
The acquisition of @ ... relies on the assumption that physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that "cannot be had" — because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747's, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no one, like the @ — as art objects befitting MoMA's collection.
Even if this post-modernist ploy isn't your cup of tea, the blog post reveals some fascinating history about the @ symbol, from its purported origins as a ligature for the Latin preposition ad, to its use in the sixteenth-century Venetian trade as an abbreviation for amphora ("a standard-size terracotta vessel employed by merchants, which had become a unit of measure"), all the way up to its modern use in email addresses.
And here's an intriguing tidbit about the use of the symbol in Spanish:
The @ sign is such an extraordinary mediating symbol that recently in the Spanish language it has begun to express gender neutrality; for example, in the typical expression Hola l@s viej@s amig@s y l@s nuev@s amig@s! (Hello old friends and new friends!)
Read the rest here.