Thursday, March 23, 2006


Well, you certainly wouldn't want to have any strudel (or shtrudel in Yiddish) in your house before Pesach, would you? Well, if you use a computer in Israel, you just might.

In Hebrew, the "at sign" - @ - is called a shtrudel שטרודל. While in English it is known for its function, in many languages it gets its nickname from its shape. Here are some other examples:

  • Czech/Slovak: zavinac "rollmops (a rolled fillet of herring)"
  • Danish: snabel-a "a with an elephant's trunk" or, less common, grisehale "pig's tail"
  • Dutch: apestaart/apestaartje "monkey tail" (the -je form is diminutive)
  • Finnish: kissanhäntä "cat's tail"
  • German: Klammeraffe "spider monkey (literally "clinging monkey"), Ohr "ear", Affenschwanz (Zurich) "monkey's tail"

While it might seem just cute that the Hebrew term comes from a word for apple pie, there's actually more to the word - and perhaps it's one of the most accurate. What is the origin of the word strudel?

The German word strudel literally means whirlpool - which is a very accurate description of the @ symbol. It derives from the Indo-European root *ser - "to flow". What other words have the same root? Serum (originally from a root meaning "watery fluid" or "whey" in Greek) and samsara (the eternal cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth in Hinduism and Buddhism).

As an aside, the Academy of the Hebrew language has given the official name כרוכית kruchit to both strudel the pastry and the @ sign in Hebrew.

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