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NEW YORK (Reuters) - For the French, it may always remind them of delicious escargot, but for most everyone else the @ symbol has come to embody the age of the Internet and its constantly evolving language.
In honor of the little squiggly's potency, the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced on Monday that it had added the @ symbol to its architecture and design collection, citing its "design power."
The @ symbol, currently used every day by millions around the world in email addresses, text messages and on twitter.com, is thought to be ancient, the museum said, possibly dating back to the sixth century.
Because the symbol is not a concrete thing but an abstract idea, it has changed meaning many times in the course of its existence.
Calling it a "design act," the museum celebrated the @ sign's multiplicity of meanings, from symbolizing a dog for Russians and a cat to Finns, to becoming ubiquitous in email exchanges.
"The @ symbol is now part of the very fabric of life all over the world," said Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design, in a blog posted Monday on the museum's website.
"It has truly become a way of expressing society's changing technological and social relationships, expressing new forms of behavior and interaction in a new world," he said.
The symbol's association with the Internet dates back to 1971 when the @ symbol appeared in the first email ever, sent by engineer Ray Tomlinson.
By adding the symbol to its collection, the museum called the move an acquisition, but the museum does not obtain ownership of the symbol -- which remains in the public realm.
"It is a momentous, elating acquisition that makes us all proud," said Antonelli, celebrating the move as a daring feat because it shows that "physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary."
Reporting by Basil Katz; editing by Christine Kearney and Todd Eastham