Blog Excerpts

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.

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Comments from our users:

Tuesday March 23rd 2010, 9:08 AM
Comment by: Katy P. (Bloomington, MN)
It makes perfect sense that @ should become an icon of our modern culture. Giving us all a sense of place, @ typifies the ME culture of facebook, myspace, linkedin, etc. etc. etc. The perfect directional symbol, @ belongs to everyone.
Tuesday March 23rd 2010, 10:06 AM
Comment by: William T. (Melbourne, FL)
Gracias VT amig@s. Hope this gives me a leg up on my son Michael (Jax) who, as a result of spending years at the Rota air base near Chipiona, Spain, is quite fluent in the language. Again, merci mon ami@. ????
Tuesday March 23rd 2010, 10:54 AM
Comment by: Valerie P.
Great article, hilarious and sometimes enlightening comments. It just goes to show, once again, that there is nothing new in the world.
Tuesday April 6th 2010, 1:15 PM
Comment by: Anonymous
Has anyone noted that the Cyrillic alphabet doesn't have the "@." My translator/admin assistant uses the Russian "shobachka" meaning "little dog" with that curved tail. I thought it was a cute adaptation.
Thursday October 14th 2010, 3:55 PM
Comment by: Maggie T. (Tuscaloosa, AL)
@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@!!! Whoo hoo!!!

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