Tuesday, April 20, 2010


@ Mr. Verb,

So there seems to be this new use of the @-sign in Facebook World, where if you want to address a response to someone's comment you prefix their name with "@". Kind of like "I'm directing this comment at so-and-so"? Any idea where this comes from?


p.s. I searched on Language Log, since they have always already discussed every topic, but when I searched for "@" my computer's head exploded.


N said...

It's common from online forums, chatting, newspaper/blog threads. Anyplace where you have multiple comments responding to something and have to disambiguate responses between different questions and statements.

Someone might respond to this with:


Don't forget that people use it to respond on blogs too!

Noah Diewald said...

I don't know if it was used before twitter but it is an actual twitter command to direct a tweet to another twitter user.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Thanks for this post. I wonder where this started? I recall it from at least early Twitter days. Did they get it from somewhere? I bet they did.

Noah Diewald said...

A Twitter employee says that their users just started doing it so they formalized it.


Unfortunately the article linked to above doesn't go into more detail.

I read one or two comments on random blogs from people claiming that it started on some specific blog or forum but even according to those non-experts, nobody seems to have any better story than that people just started doing it and the software writers began adding formal support afterward.

The wikipedia entry mentions the use of @username in emails to draw the attention of a specific recipient to something. It doesn't mention anything about when people began doing this but email is older than web forums or micro blogging and already used the @ in a place that preceded a destination, even if it was intended only as a delimiter.

The entry also mentions some other uses.


Monica said...

Thanks, N and Anon and Noah! Since I don't do Twitter I didn't know about its use there.

GAC said...

It started before Twitter, though, in comment threads in the method N described. There are other conventions as well, such as simply prefacing with the commenter's handle, or using "RE: so-and-so".

I have a feeling the Twitter usage evolved from that forum usage, which has moved into Facebook in more-or-less it's original form.