Translation Musings: What do monkey tail, little worm and crazy A have in common?

Nov 6, 2013 | Language

IMAG1797They are all in your email address!

Yes, they all refer to the common little @ (boringly known in English as ‘at’) sign. Although at is becoming more and more common across the globe, some other languages still use more evocative descriptions.

Unsurprisingly, monkeys and their tails seem to feature heavily, including the Dutch apenstaartje (little monkey tail), German Klammeraffe (spider monkey) and Serbian мајмунче – pronounced majmunče (little monkey).

Other animals used to represent this funny little character include dogs and puppies, such as the Armenian շնիկ (shnik), meaning puppy and the Russian собака (sobaka) meaning dog. The dog comparison comes from Soviet computers DVK where the symbol had a short tail and is also used in Uzbek (Kuchukcha, which loosely means doggy) and Ukraine песик (pronounced pesky) – little dog. In Finnish, they (unofficially) go with our feline friends with kissanhäntä (cat’s tail) and miukumauku (miaow-meow). In Greek it is most often referred to as παπάκι (papaki), meaning duckling. And elephants also put in an appearance in Danish (snabela) and Faroese (snápil-a) – both meaning (elephant’s) trunk A.

In Hungarian, it is called kukac (worm or maggot) and a number of languages use the snail analogy – including Belarus (сьлімак, pronounced ślimak), Indonesian (a keong), Italian (chiocciola) and Turkish (salyangoz)- although the Turkish, as with many languages, have a number of choices including the interesting koç (ram).

Variations on the theme of the letter A are also common – such as the Serbian лудо Аludo (crazy) A. The Simplified Chinese hua A (花A) means lacy A and in the Greenlandic and Inuit languages it is called aajusaq meaning A-like or something that looks like A. But my favourite has to be the Bulgarian кльомба (klyomba) – a badly written letter.

And finally, Morse code. Although not strictly a language, the @ sign was needed for use with email addresses and this addition is the only change to have been made since World War 1. It is known as a commat, and consists of the Morse code for the “A” and “C” which run together as one character: dot dash dash dot dash dot.

So now you know.