It is hard to imagine our lives without technology — whether it’s television, an audio/ video media player of some sort, a laptop, smartphone, or of course the internet and Wi-Fi. These technological advances brought with them their share of entertainment, joy, and maybe drama. They bring people closer together while listening to music (vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs, streaming), watching television and movies (DVDs, DVRs), or talking to relatives who live on opposite sides of the world. Graphics and symbols are other aspects of technology in our everyday lives. In some cases, they have outlived their parent devices. These icons are second nature to us. They do not even need to be translated to other languages. In this blog, I will share my findings about where some of the most known symbols originated.
Although the @ symbol is the same in all countries, the name for the character differs significantly. Here are some examples:
In Czech and Slovak: zavináč, meaning "rollmops"
In Dutch: apenstaartje, meaning "monkeys tail"
In German: Klammeraffe, meaning "spider monkey"
In Greek: παπάκι (papaki), meaning "duckling”
In Hungarian: kukac, a playful synonym for "worm" or "maggot"
In Russian: собака (sobaka), meaning "dog"In Serbian: лудо А (ludo A), meaning "crazy A"
The use of @ as we know it was introduced by computer engineer Ray Tomlinson. He faced the challenge of how to send a message from one person’s computer to another. The solution required that an individual’s name and the name of their computer be separated by a symbol that was not already widely used in programming. He chose @, and in 1971, the world’s first email was sent.
However, there are other legends that say @ is a combination of a + d. In Latin, AD means “toward” and is also an abbreviation for AD (Anno Domini), meaning “in the year of our Lord.” In order to avoid confusion and make writing processes easier, monks replaced the word “toward” with @.
No one really knows about the origin of the play symbol. However, back in the day when audio visual was still reel-to-reel, the triangle was an arrow indicating the direction in which each reel was moving.
Thinking about it now, the triangle does point right (the same direction that western cultures read — left to right), and the little dot on your media player’s timeline also goes from left to right. So, if the myth is true, the triangle still serves its original function.
There is no clear origin of this well-known symbol, rather two interesting and believable theories.
The first theory comes from the field of electronics. According to the graphic standards for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), two parallel lines stand for “capacitor,” a device that stores electrical energy. In our case, the button with this symbol holds the moment.
In the second theory, a similar symbol is used in music, the “caesura,” and is often called “train tracks.” It represents a break or pause.
It’s hard to imagine a device without this button. Even mostly button free smartphones display this symbol before powering off.
Its origin goes back to WWII when engineers used a binary system to mark control flip switches. 1 means “ON” and 0 stands for “OFF.”
In 1973, the symbol of power with a half circle and line on top was used to show a stand-by power state. On December 8, 2004, IEEE officially accepted it as the power sign.
Now, more than ever, we are surrounded with technology and a minimalistic aesthetic that drives the development of quick and easy ways of communication. Graphic symbols are one of them. However, as we can see, these “modern” graphics are rooted in history and have a mythology of their own.
It only takes a moment to pause and find something interesting in an ordinary object.
Max Belyaev, Designer