For every given male character, there is a female version of that character, and vice versa.
“That’s the thing about internet campaigns isn’t it? Campaigns used to be: you had to get out and make a poster, a banner, get out in the rain. Now, you just ‘click’…”
– Bill Bailey
The @ is called by many different names across the 28 member states of the EU – mainly animals. The map also locates curious clusters in which these animals congregate, as if certain climates are more favourable to certain imaginary creatures than to others. Electronic elephants seem to thrive only in Scandinavia, for example.
The Romance languages by and large stuck to the inanimate arroba, the pre-digital name for the @ sign in Spanish and Portuguese. That name is derived from the Arabic ar-rub, meaning a quarter – in this case, a measure of weight: 25% of what a donkey (or mule) could carry. In Spain, the customary weight of an arroba was 25 pounds (11.5 kg), in Portugal, 32 pounds (14.7 kg). On the map, we see these weights proliferate throughout the Iberian peninsula, but also in France and French-speaking Belgium (as arobase).
Continental Europe is otherwise dominated by digital monkeys, due to the likeness of the @ to a monkey tail curling around a tree branch. In Germany and Austria, the symbol is referred to as Klammeraffe. The word translates as ‘spider monkey’ – an American genus of monkey noted for its long tail. Klammer on its own can mean ‘bracket’, ‘staple’ or ‘paperclip’. The Klammeraffe shares Germany and Austria with the ordinary at. But in Poland, the małpa (‘monkey’) has the country to itself.
Dutch speakers in the Netherlands and Belgium refer to the @ as apenstaart(je), ‘(little) monkey tail’. In Luxembourgish, that becomes Afeschwanz.
The simian simile also proliferates throughout the Balkans: in Romanian, the @ is called coadă de maimuţă (‘monkey tail’), in Bulgarian маймунка (maimunka – ‘little monkey’). Croatians either use at or manki, a direct loan from the English ‘monkey’ (rather than the Croatian word for monkey, majmun). Their Slovenian neighbours call it an afna (‘little monkey’).
In Scandinavia, the elephant was seen as an apt metaphor for the curly a. In both Danish and Swedish, the @ is called snabel-a, with snabel meaning ‘[elephant’s] trunk’. Their Finnish neighbours offically call it at-merkki, but colloquially either kissanhäntä (‘cat’s tail’) or miukumauku (‘meow-meow’).
Czechs and Slovaks are united in their fishy metaphor for the @, finding in its curly appearance a similarity to zavináč, or ‘rollmops’ (rolled pickled herring fillets).
Italy is dominated by a chiocciola (‘snail’) riding up its boot. In Greece and Cyprus, the @ is rather enigmatically compared to a παπάκι (papaki – ‘duckling’).
The Baltics follow the English fashion, and say at. Not very imaginative perhaps, but less impalatable than the Hungarians, who say kukac, or ‘maggot’.
That concludes all the fauna on this delightfully weird map, but here are some other remarkable names for @ in other languages: Armenian: shnik (‘puppy’); Chinese: xiao laoshu (‘little mouse’); Japanese: naruto (after the tidal whirlpools in Naruto bay); Kazakh: aykulak (‘moon’s ear’); Norwegian: krøllalfa (‘curly alpha’); Russian: sobaka (‘dog’); Ukrainian: vukho (‘ear’).
Not to be confused with the law of poetry enshrined by Edgar Allan Poe, Poe’s Law states:
“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”
The core of Poe’s law is that a parody of something extreme, by nature, becomes impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism. A corollary of Poe’s law is the reverse phenomenon: sincere fundamentalist beliefs can be mistaken for a parody of those beliefs.