[SWLUG] Typing accents and special characters

Telsa Gwynne hobbit at aloss.ukuu.org.uk
Tue May 25 07:43:04 UTC 2004

Warning: this has lots of weird characters in it. Make sure your 
mailer understands UTF-8 or it will look very silly.

(Goodness knows how it will look in the archives.) 

On Mon, May 24, 2004 at 10:38:27PM +0100 or thereabouts, Dafydd
Harries wrote:
> Ar 23/05/2004 am 21:12, ysgrifennodd Chris M. Jackson:
> > Ar Sul, 2004-05-23 19:39 +0100, ysgrifennodd Neil Jones:
> > > Hi folks,
> > > 
> > > I need to type some accents and characters and cannot work
> > > out how to enter them on my normal English keyboard. I am
> > > still  using the standard  English version of my system
> > 
> > Shift+AltGr is the default X Compose key for most
> > installations.  Press (not hold) the Compose key(s) and the
> > two characters to compose.  Examples:
> > 
> > Ô = <Compose> O ^ 
> > © = <Compose> c o
> >  
> > Happy composing 8)
> Just to make this crystal clear, you have to press Shift and
> AltGr together, then let them go, then press the two characters
> you wish to compose one after another. E.g.:
> Press Shift 
> Press AltGt 
> Let go 
> Press ^ 
> Let go 
> Press a 
> Let go
> --> â
> Quite the keyboard acrobatics.
> Other combinations:
> ' a --> á 
> ` a --> à 
> " a --> ä
> You can probably guess others. Perhaps somebody can point to a
> list?

XFree86 (Xorg, now) lists them all in a big file. Do not expect 
to be able to read all the contents of the file unless you have a 
very large set of fonts. In CVS it's in xc/nls/Compose/ but on
my (not-yet-upgraded-to-X.org) system the file is 

It is full of stuff like this:

<Multi_key> <o> <c> 			: "©" copyright
<Multi_key> <question> <question> 	: "¿" questiondown
<Multi_key> <o> <e> 			: "œ" oe

<Multi_key> is presumably the [Shift][AltGr] combination.

and then (after a pile of Korean), you get to a series of 

<Multi_key> <grave> <A> : "À" U00C0 # LATIN CAPITAL LETTER A WITH GRAVE

There are three different ways to produce that character. One
uses this "<Multi-key>" thing. One uses a "<combining_grave>".
One uses a "<dead_grave>" I have no idea what the other two
are. I presume they're for other keyboards.

So if the character is listed in that file, you should be 
able to generate it whilst in X. And X should be able to 
understand it. X may not be able to find a font which has
the glyph in it in order to display it for you, but that's

There are some other ways which won't work in all of X. I
do not know the Qt/KDE ways. But Gtk (and hence Gnome, grip,
the Gimp and a bunch of others) also lets you generate such
characters by typing the UTF-8 "code point" of the character
whilst you have [shift] and [ctrl] held down. This, of course,
means knowing the hexadecimal number associated with a 
particular character. 

Code points are.. well. I would call them "the number for
a character" but I suspect that's not the whole story. 
They start with a capital U and a plus sign. You can
try to find the character you want in gucharmap (Gnome
Unicode character map). Or you can just keep a little list
yourself as you come across them. Which is what I do.

So there are a series of musical characters at U+2269 and on.
The trademark symbol is U+2122. The card suits start at U+2663.
And to generate a musical note, hold down control and shift.
Keep holding them down (note this is different from X's normal
way of putting fancy characters in) and type '2 6 6 a'. As you 
type these, you'll get those characters themselves, underlined. 
Until you type the final number and lift your fingers from 
control and shift. Then you will get a ♪. 

I ♥ Unicode :) There was a time when lots of software simply
didn't support it, but Unicode awareness is increasing to
the extent that http://utf-8.org/ documents not the software
which supports it but instead the software which doesn't.

> Other things have the notion of composing characters, including
> the Linux console and Vim. In Vim, you can do

I still do not know how to do any of this at the console. Well,
other than starting Vim. Anyone know the console way to do it?

> Control-K ' a -> á
> You can even use it for Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew and
> other symbols. The command ":digraphs" will give you a list and
> ":help digraphs" the documentation. Of course, you have to make
> sure that the encodings and fonts are set up correctly for you
> to be able to view the characters you've typed in. :)

I remember discovering that for this to work in vim, you also
needed to have your locale set correctly. On Red Hat, for
example, I had an account somewhere where the default locale
was en_US or something. I had to change it to en_US.UTF-8 or
en_GB.UTF-8 to get vim to do the control-K stuff. 

We should write this stuff up.


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