Here are few short explanations to demystify the meanings of our favorite symbols.
The Question Mark
However, paper was not cheap and so to allow space to be saved, it was over time shortened to qo. That eventually posed another problem – qo could be confused for the ending of another word rather than an indication that a question was being posed. So, the q was placed on top of the o. Again, this had the added benefit of saving space. What happened next was that the q turned in to a squiggle and the o became a dot. What do you get then? Exactly! Here is the evolution.
The Exclamation Point
The Equals Sign
The At Sign
However, its traditional usage was superseded in the 1990s when the symbol was adopted to indicate the location of an email address at a particular domain (or indeed to indicate direction). Programmers also use it in various languages but its use is inconsistent to say the least.
So at became, well, at – and as such is the only one of our symbols to radically change its meaning to a majority of people while remaining intact.
It came back to the big time in the twentieth century. Yet its meaning to us now has altered somewhat along with, on many occasions, its name. As well as linking passages the asterisk is often used to represent missing letters, most often from expletives. If you don’t give a f**k but do not want to give too much offense, then you will use an asterisk (or two). Plus, it has an abundance of uses in IT. Computer scientists use the asterisk in regular expressions to denote zero and it is used in command line interfaces as a wildcard. If you use Excel or any number of programming languages then you will use it to multiply: 4*4 is 16 and so on. The list could go on. However, you will probably call it star rather than asterisk for all of the above.
First Image Flickr User Horia Varlan