The asterisk is old. Really old. Granted, it is not 5,000 years old, as Robert Bringhurst claims in the otherwise impeccable Elements of Typographic Style1 (Bringhurst confuses it with a star-like cuneiform mark that represents “deity” or “heaven”2), but it has more than two millennia under its belt nonetheless. I go into greater detail in the Shady Characters book, but the abridged version of the asterisk’s origin story goes something like this.
Ray Tomlinson, the software engineer who propelled the the @-symbol from obscurity to ubiquity when he chose it for use in email addresses, has been named as one of the inaugural inductees of the Internet Hall of Fame. Mr Tomlinson is in good company: ex-Vice President Al Gore, honoured for his work in promoting Internet access, is among the first round of inductees, as is Vint Cerf, the co-creator of TCP/IP and, by extension, the modern Internet itself. It’s been a long time since Mr Tomlinson first sent an email to himself @ another computer, but I’m sure it’s been worth the wait.