Klammeraffe ("spider monkey"): That’s how Germans used to call the @-sign and I really wonder why no one uses this adorable name anymore

Literally: “spider monkey” / meaning: @-sign

In the late 90s, the @ sign was virtually emblematic of the Internet boom. Today, we use it primarily to tag someone in a WhatsApp chat who we know has muted the family group because they’re not in the mood for Uncle Ralf’s conspiracy theories.

The symbol itself is age-old and was already used in the Middle Ages as an abbreviation for “ad” (English: to, at). It has been found on American typewriters since 1880, when it was mainly used for price quotations such as “10 eggs @ 5 ¢,” and was called “commercial a” in that context. When e-mail was invented in 1971, the character was eventually chosen to separate the user’s name from the computer’s name – simply because it was hardly used anywhere else.

The German word Klammeraffe reached its peak in 1998, when more and more private households were gaining access to the internet. In this case, however, we Germans are not the only ones who have come up with a particularly creative name for this profane symbol. In Swedish, for example, it is called “snabel-a” (“trunk-a”), in Finnish “kissanhäntä” (“cat’s tail”) and in Icelandic “fílseyra” (“elephant’s ear”). The Czechs, for their part, call the sign “Zavináč” which means “Rollmops.” Why the hell didn’t we Germans think of that?


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