Recently, this question of mine was closed as off-topic:
Where does the @ symbol come from?

As far as I know (and some commenters have agreed) the use of symbols in English if on-topic.
My argument for this is essentially based on the tag and its uses, particularly including history-based questions.

All three of the above questions include historical references and are effectively looking at a symbol's etymology.
The reason the question was voted as off-topic is due to its being not "about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help centre."

Is such a question off-topic?
If it is, should we close those other questions?

2 Answers 2


The help center welcomes expert-level questions about English spelling and punctuation, and about the history of English words.¹ The list of welcome topics is illustrative, not definitive. Expert-level questions about the history of letters, numerals, punctuation symbols, scribal abbreviations, and other symbols which represent English on the page are welcome.

The “@” sign is commonly understood by English readers as an abbreviation of an English word: namely, the word “at”, generally with the connotation “(each) at”, or “at (the rate)”, in phrases such as “12 apples @ $1”.²

A question about how the “@” sign came to represent the word “at” is not unobjectionable, per se. There was a point made in comment that the question is general reference because there is a Wikipedia article which offers answers. But the question asks if these answers are correct, and I notice that the Wikipedia answers are marked “citation needed” (meaning Wikipedia currently lacks any evidence for these answers). What we mean by general reference is that the question “is simple and can probably be easily answered by looking it up”.

This is an expert-level question about English. I have reopened it.


I would say that questions on the English names or labels for symbols are on topic, but not necessarily other questions. "What Is the Real Name of the #?" is on-topic.

Questions about logograms, symbols which are used in the place of full words, and have consistent spoken equivalents, are on-topic IMO. This would include both the questions on @ and "7".

I think most questions about type-setting should be off-topic, but many of them can be asked at Graphic Design.

  • Since you qualified typesetting questions, would you note what makes an acceptable one or an unacceptable one? As an example, is "How many spaces should come after a period/full stop?" on or off topic in your opinion?
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 23:45
  • @Tonepoet Completely off topic and entirely opinion based. Questions could be asked on the history and arguments for different spacing styles, but that really has nothing to do with the English language. Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 23:50
  • 1
    I would say totally on topic. Perhaps not quite the way it is worded there, but the number of spaces used to separate sentences is something that most style guides (which, together with the OED, are generally touted as the closest thing English has to a body of authorities) deal with. That makes it not opinion-based, at least no more than a plethora of other on-topic questions here, and if the question were properly worded and asked, I would definitely consider it on topic. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 15:45
  • @Janus Previous discussions on style guides have suggested they are off topic. There hasn't been a lot of feedback on that though. Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 22:46

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