What do those weird Mac symbols mean?

April 28th 2009 · Mac Computer

Mac’s like their inexplicable keyboard symbols. Mac documentation, both for Apple software and third-party software make heavy use of keyboard symbols and often don’t take time to explain them. It takes a little hunting around to find what the characters mean.

Keyboard keys are the first, biggest stumbling block when switching to a Mac from Windows or Linux. Especially on a laptop keyboard where keys you expect to see, like backspace and dedicated home and end keys simpler aren’t there. You don’t realize how strongly ingrained ctrl-c/ctrl-v are, until you have to switch to command-c/command-v.

Symbol Unicode Purpose
2318 Command key. Sometimes the key has an Apple symbol on it as well. If you're coming from Windows or Linux, this acts like the control key does on those operating systems. Copy and paste use the command key. This is one of the biggest adjustments coming from another platform. It's also what trips you up when moving between operating systems.
2335 Option key. Sometimes the key has the option symbol, sometimes it has the word 'option' and sometimes it has 'alt' on it. If you're coming from Windows or Linux, this acts like the alt key.
2303 Control key. This acts like a normal control key, but, if you're coming from Windows or Linux, it loses its special meaning for copy and paste commands. This is actually useful in terminal windows since the Mac copy and paste doesn't conflict with the terminal ctrl-c.
21e7 The shift key. Usually labeled shift.
21a9 The return key. Works just like you expect.
2305 The enter key. Mac's have both a return key and an enter key. Confusingly, the return key is also often labeled as an enter key. The enter key is the small one. Some applications give the enter key special meanings that differ from return.
232b Delete key. Another hard one to adjust to from other operating systems. The Mac delete key works like backspace in Windows and Linux. The forward delete is what most people expect from this key.
2326 The forward delete. What people on other operating systems think the delete key is.
238b Escape key. Often labeled 'esc' on the keyboard. The most confusing part of this is the symbol, I can never remember what it is at first glance.
23cf Eject key. Used to eject cd's and dvd's from the drive.
2196 The home key. Smaller keyboards don't have this as a dedicated key. The left arrow needs to be combined with the command key to make home.
2198 The end key. Same as with home. Smaller keyboards need to do command-left arrow to get end.
8670 The page up key. Same as with home. Smaller keyboards need to do Fn-Up Arrow to get page up.
8671 The page down key. Same as with home. Smaller keyboards need to do Fn-Down Arrow to get page down.
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