FFE Magazine

Where did these computer symbols come From?



10jun computer symbol A

We see them at work, at home, in the computers and gadgets that we rely on every day. Symbols that turn on or off, access and play our songs, open websites and set connections. But you probably did not know that most of these came before the time of computers.


Where did these symbols come from, and why were they chosen? You’ll be surprised to know the origins of these commonplace tech symbols.


 10jun computer symbol 2

The power on/off button that we see on mobile phones, laptops, and virtually every electronic device is actually the binary function symbols ‘1’ and ‘0’ put together and dates back to World War 2.


 10jun computer symbol 3

Apple’s command key, which allows users to access majority of the computer’s abilities, is the Swedish Gorgon loop, a road sign that indicates places of interest. Originally, developer Andy Hertzfeld suggested using an apple as the symbol for the command key. But Steve Jobs rejected the idea because there would be ‘too many Apples on the computer.’


10jun computer symbol 1

The USB port symbol is taken from the Greek god Neptune’s trident called Dreizack. But instead of three points at the end of the trident, the designers replaced two points with a circle and a square to symbolise the different peripherals of the USB.


 10jun computer symbol 4

The Bluetooth symbol comes from 10th century Denmark King Harald Blåtand, who united the warring factions of Denmark, Sweden and Norway just as Bluetooth technology allows co-operation between automotive, mobile and computer devices. The symbol is a mix of the two runes of the king’s initials.


 10jun computer symbol 5

The play button is taken from the time when tape was a popular music medium. It simply symbolised the direction the tape is moving. The other symbols popularised during the era of the tape are the rewind button, which points to the opposite direction, and the fast forward and fast rewind buttons which used double arrows to mean increased speed.


 10jun computer symbol 6

The pause button comes from a paragraph break symbol used in music and poetry called causera. The causera denotes a pause in the verse lines and uses two parallel lines.


 10jun computer symbol 7

There are two origin stories for the ‘at’ symbol used in email addresses. The first says that it is taken from 6th century monks who used the symbol to denote the Latin word for ‘at’ or ‘toward.’ The second says that it was used by programmer Raymond Tomlinson to separate the user and the terminal in computer network addresses. The ‘at’ sign is also called ‘monkey’s tail’ in Germany, ‘snail’ in Italy and France and ‘little mouse’ in China.





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