Word of the Day Shtrudel

Try not to lick the keyboard: The word for strudel, that spiral pastry traditionally stuffed with fruit, also appears as part of your email address.

Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova
Shoshana Kordova

Though apple strudel is probably the most well-known of this filling-stuffed rolled-up pastry, other popular kinds of strudel in Germany, according to an online description of German food in America fittingly called German Food Guide, include savory versions like cabbage strudel. They also include a decidedly non-kosher one that has not quite made the rounds of Israel's hippest cafes: blood sausage strudel, filled with sauerkraut, bacon and, naturally, blood sausage.

But while Germans and Israelis alike eat at least one kind of strudel – pronounced "shtrudel" in German, as it is in Hebrew – it is in Israel that the name for the pastry has also come to mean something else entirely: an "at" sign, specifically when used in an email address.

In German, the word "strudel" means whirlpool, which a cross-section of the rolled dough – much like the spiral of the "at" sign – resembles.

Hebrew isn't the only language to come up with evocative visual descriptions for the symbol that appears above the "2" key on standard keyboards. The rolled-food theme shows up in Czech and Slovak too, according to a 1997 compilation by Scott Herron of how people in different countries refer to the symbol. In those languages, the "at" sign is called zavinac, which means pickled herring fillets rolled into a cylindrical shape.

In Danish and German, according to Herron, the "at" sign appears to most recall various animals and their body parts. Danish words for the symbol, he says, include snabel, or elephant's trunk, and grisehale, or pig's tail, while Germans abandon the strudel in favor of "monkey's tail" (Affenschwanz), "spider monkey" (Klammeraffe) or just "ear" (Ohr). Wikipedia notes that nowadays, many Germans drop the imagery and just use the boring English "at."

But sometimes what seems foreign has its roots close to home and what seems local can actually be traced across the seas.

Though strudel (the food) is identified most readily with Germany and Austria, it was actually Turkey that laid the foundation by introducing baklava into Austria in 1453, according to the German Food Guide. One thing led to another and the honeyed, flaky pastry common to the Middle East turned into strudels filled with apples, or bacon and blood sausage.

And while we may think of strudel (the "at" sign) as an Israeli invention, it actually appears in the Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing under the following entry, dated 1995: "Common (spoken) name for the commercial at sign, '@.'" As The Forward's Philologos speculates, the name was probably picked up by Israeli computer buffs and brought back to Israel, where it caught on just as the name was disappearing in the United States. Just goes to show that sometimes things circle back on themselves in unexpected ways, a lot like the spiral of a strudel.

Thanks to its spiral shape, the 'at' connector in your email address shares a name with a German pastry.Credit: Courtesy

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