不同语言如何称呼“@”符号?

编辑:给力英语新闻 更新:2017年11月12日 作者:威廉·帕克(William Park)

(图片来源: iStock)
(图片来源: iStock)

说起“@”符号(英语称其为“at”),其他语言的叫法比英语有趣得多。

维基百科上给出的“@”词条列举了它在50多种外语中的名称,其中很多都是对其形状的生动解释——通常是类比动物的网络流行语。

亚美尼亚人称其为“ishnik”,这是“小狗”的意思(大概是 @ 像蜷成一团的小狗吧)。台湾人叫它“小老鼠”,大陆人叫它“圈A”(意思是“带圈的A”)。然而,丹麦人更喜欢叫他“snabela”(大象鼻子的形状A)。

匈牙利人的叫法“kukac”(“虫子”或“蛆”)最倒胃口,而意大利人的叫法“chiocciola”(蜗牛)则相对令人愉悦一些,个人最喜欢的两种称呼是哈萨克人的“айқұлақ”(月之耳)和德国人的“klammeraffe”(蜘蛛猴,或者更准确地说,“粘猴”)。如果你是希腊人,你会叫它“papaki”,意思是小鸭子。

该符号的使用可追溯到 16 世纪(图片来源:iStock)
该符号的使用可追溯到 16 世纪(图片来源:iStock)

除了用各种动物名称描述这个符号外,这些外语对 @ 还有其它称呼。比如波斯尼亚人称之为“ludoA”(疯狂的字母A),而斯洛伐克语中则叫“zavinac”(腌鱼肉卷),土耳其语中是“guzelA”(漂亮的A)。@ 甚至还有特殊的摩斯电码符号,这是一战后唯一加入的新符号,是由点和横杠构成的单一字符,意思是字母 A 和 C:(•--•-•)。

我曾在我的《Netmology》一书中简略地介绍过 @ 符号在电子邮件领域的历史,不过如果想要获得更完整的解读,最好阅读吉斯·休斯顿 (Keith Houston))的博文“神秘符号”(Shady Characters),该博文详尽地介绍了雷·汤姆林森成就这一世界性符号的故事。在 1971 年,当时29 岁的这位电脑工程师决定将鲜为人知的“@”符号引入他新开发的电子邮件系统,并使之成为一个核心要素。

汤姆林森2016 年 3 月 5 日逝世,享年 74 岁。

对汤姆林森而言,“@”是一个非常好的选择,因为这个符号在计算机编程中几乎不会用到,同时“@”作为操作简便的符号,又可以将邮件发送给指定域名的接收者(电子邮件在汤姆林森发明他的新式电子邮件系统之前就已存在,但仅用作登录到同一计算机系统的不同用户之间的一种通信方式)。

此前,“@”在英语中大多用作会计符号,表示商品的价格:用 10 分来买 20 条面包可以写作“20 loaves @ 10 ¢”。

各国语言有其自身的描述,从"月之耳"到"粘猴"(图片来源:iStock)
各国语言有其自身的描述,从"月之耳"到"粘猴"(图片来源:iStock)

不过,这一符号的重要性可能远远超出汤姆林森的认识。休斯顿注明道,“@”符号的使用记录最早可以追溯到一位佛罗伦萨商人弗朗西斯科·拉比(Francesco Lapi)在 1536 年 5 月所寄出去的信,他在信中用“@”来描述酒的价钱,意为“计量缩写”。

在现代西班牙语和葡萄牙语里,“@”符号也代表重量单位“arroba”(阿罗巴),这个词和以此一重量单位为基准的容器“amphora”(双耳瓶)有明显的联系,古希腊与古罗马人用双耳瓶来盛装饮料(主要是葡萄酒)。

不过,无论是腌肉卷还是蜗牛,都和电子邮件没什么大关系。对我来说,它可以增加打字的乐趣:这个古老的地中海符号运用于现代社会,有效地促进着当代信息交流。

How do you say @ in other languages?

We use the @ symbol in email and elsewhere thanks to Ray Tomlinson, who has died aged 74. Tom Chatfield looks at the unusual and poetic ways that the world now describes this iconic keyboard character – and how its roots go back to the 1500s.

Talking about the “at” sign is much more interesting if you’re not speaking English.

The Wikipedia entry for @ lists names for it in over 50 other languages, many of which are colourful interpretations of its shape – and which, in true online style, often involve animal analogies.

Armenians call it ishnik, meaning a “puppy” (curled up on the floor, I assume). Chinese terms include xiao laoshu in Taiwan, meaning “little mouse” and quan ei on the mainland, meaning “circled A”. Danes, meanwhile, prefer snabela (an “elephant’s trunk A”).

One of my favourites: the Germans say klammeraffe, which means ‘cling monkey’

Hungarians have the less savory kukac (“worm” or “maggot”), Italians the slightly more palatable chiocciola (“snail”), while – two personal favourites – Kazakhs see a айқұлақ (“moon’s ear”) and some Germans a klammeraffe (“spider monkey”  – or, more precisely, “cling monkey”). If you’re Greek, you say papaki, meaning “little duck.”

There’s interest outside the animal kingdom, too. Bosnians go for ludo A (“crazy letter A”), while in Slovak it is a zavinac (“pickled fish roll”) and in Turkish a guzel A (“beautiful A”). There’s even a special Morse Code signal for @ – the only new symbol added since World War One – formed by running together the dots and dashes for the letters “A” and “C” as a single character: (·--·-·).

Ray Tomlinson created a global emblem when he decided to use the symbol

I've written briefly about the history of the @ symbol in email in my book Netymology, but for a definitive account there’s no better place than Keith Houston’s blog Shady Characters, which tells in wonderful detail the story of how in 1971 a 29-year-old computer engineer called Ray Tomlinson created a global emblem when he decided to make the obscure symbol “@” the fulcrum of his new email messaging system.

(Tomlinson died aged 74 on 5 March. Read more from BBC News about his life and impact.)

It was a good choice on Tomlinson’s part, being almost unused elsewhere in computer programming, as well as an intuitive fit for sending email to another person “at” a particular domain (email itself had existed before Tomlinson’s invention, but only as a means of communication between different users logged into the same computer system).

Previously, @ had existed in English largely as an accounting symbol, indicating the price of goods: buying 20 loaves of bread at 10 cents each might be written “20 loaves @ 10 ¢”.

An instance of @ is recorded as early as a letter sent in May 1536

It was also, however, a far more venerable symbol than Tomlinson probably realised. As Houston notes, an instance of @ meaning “at the rate of” is recorded as early as a letter sent in May 1536 by a Florentine merchant called Francesco Lapi, who used it to describe the price of wine.

There’s a clear link, here, between the modern Spanish and Portuguese word for both the @ sign and a unit of weight – arroba  – and the container on which this unit of weight was based, the amphora, used by both the ancient Greeks and Romans to transport liquids (and wine in particular).

All of which brings us a long way from email, and indeed from pickled rolls and snails. For me, though, it adds a pleasant depth to the hastily tapped symbol on my keyboard: a little piece of the ancient Mediterranean lodged in modernity, and a supreme enabler of contemporary exchange.