@ The Generation Gap

We're hosting two Israeli teenagers this week as part of the Diller Teen Fellow program between our North Jersey federation and our sister program in Rish L'Zion, Israel. They are articulate, funny, techno-savvy and they don't laugh at my pidgin Hebrew. My command of food-oriented Hebrew and the morning operatives (coffee, ice, good morning, where are you?) was sufficient until I offered to email some pictures to their parents.

One of the girls spelled out her parents' email login then directed me to type a shtruedel. I gave her the look normally reserved for my attempts at this modernized ancient langauge (reality check here: last time I was in Israel I had to ask for toilet paper, and could neither remember the word nor describe it, until I forced a Yiddish-Hebrew couplet and asked, essentially, for "butt serviettes". It worked, but you should have seen the look). Shtruedel is what my Yiddish-speaking grandparents ate on Sunday afternoons after the obligatory trip to the bakery. It's not on my keyboard.

Until the air-drawing, repetition and thinking in metaphors clicked: shtruedel is the @ sign. Looks like a strudel in cross-section. I had to double-check Wikipedia on this, just to be sure I wasn't injected food-related context where none was warranted. Sure enough, the proper Hebrew word for "commerical at" is krukit, which translates to...

Strudel.

I believe this is another one of those Internet generation gap social vignettes, but not one born from students who have never seen a hand-written receipt with a quantity, a "commercial at" sign followed by a price. Nor is it a derivative of pronouncing email addresses in a post-bang addressing Internet. I really think that the current crop of teenagers don't get the notion that you are "at" your email. Your address is an identifier and a place name; it's not necessary for you to be at that named place. When first reading email on the Princeton University VAXen in the mid-80s, you had to be physically in the same building, usually on the other end of a nicely soldered RS-232 cable. The @ was less commercial and more existential: You were at that machine, not at a service, not at the other end of a scalable load-balancing and DDoS defeating L7 switch, but really at a compute node. Today, whether it's shtrudel, snail, round a, fancy a, or monkey, it's merely a token that helps us break a network location into pronouncable parts. Why not put a cooloquial pronunciation on it? Especially if it's food-related, as it improves the probability that I know the word.

Comments:

When I first came to China, I encountered probably 4 or 5 names for the at sign. I also had fun describing ~ (wiggly) and ! (bang) and \* (splat).

Posted by Sin-Yaw Wang on April 11, 2008 at 02:57 PM EDT #

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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