Everyone has probably read Mickey Mouse comics and noticed that when the various characters are angry or annoyed, special graphic characters appear in their speech bubbles to symbolise swearing.
Here, we’ll be looking at these symbols themselves, specifically: & or ampersand, # or hashtag(1) and @ or at, journeying back in time in search of their origins.
(1) In music this character symbolises a Diesis!
Ampersand – &
Origin: this symbol was created by Marco Tulio Tirone, Cicero’s secretary in ancient Rome.
Marco Tulio arrived at the symbol by writing the 2 letters “e” and “t” (“et” meaning “and” in Latin) joined together.
@ – at –
No one knows who is responsible for this graphic symbol, which is now indispensable when it comes to sending e-mails. It seems, however, that it is the Italians who take credit for the term, ante-litteram, as there are traces of a “letter ‘a’ with particular decoration” being handwritten in Florentine and Venetian commercial documents in the Middle Ages, used it to shorten the term “amphora” – a unit of measurement.
Today, this would be equivalent to a litre, or barrel, of whichever liquid we are referring to.
The written documentation showing the use of this typeface is, however, always of Italian authorship, as in a sacred text kept in the Vatican Apostolic Library, this symbol can be seen as an abbreviation of “Amen”.
# – Hashtag –
Here, too, the graphic character was born from Ancient Rome, a symbolic abbreviation of “numeros” (numbers) used in a numbered list such as this:
It was even used to show the rankings of a chariot Grand Prix, like so:
# 1 Schumacherum
# 2 Sennarum
# 3 Fangiorum! 😊
It’s safe to say the symbol is used very differently now, in the world of social media, than it was back in Roman times, but even so, it still varies depending on the social network.
It mainly serves to group posts into a theme, so that anyone looking can find all the posts and comments related to #historylesson (for example) as a general topic of the main discussion.