The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Internet typography for dummies

Writing with 🆕🐜🐜

tl;dr: I needed to re-enable the compose key on modern Ubuntu to get nerd satisfaction because I found the lack of umlauts a constant grinding irritation. Here is where I explain how to type umlauts.

🚧 make or include a keyboard shortcut table

🚧 which things apply only to US-English keyboards?

Dashes and spacers

en dash, –
⎇ - (Mac)
Compose - - . (Gnome)
em dash, —

⎇ _ (Mac)

Compose - - - (Gnome)
Ellipsis, …

⎇ ; (Mac)

Compose .. (Gnome)
Non-breaking space
⎇ <space> (Mac)
Compose <space> <space> (Gnome)

This last one is mostly needed to avoid widows and such in titles, but hopefully we can all avoid that hack now thanks to CSS widows and orphans properties which solve this at a styling level.

Quotes, apostrophes

Opening single curly quote, ‘

⎇ + ] (Mac)

Compose + < ' (Gnome)
AltGr + 9 (Any X?)
Closing single curly quote ( ’ )

⎇ + } (Mac)

Compose + > ' (Gnome)
AltGr + 0 (Any X?)
Opening double curly quote ( “ )

Alt + [ (Mac)

Compose + < " (Gnome)
Closing double curly quote

⎇ + { (Mac)

Compose + > " (Gnome)
Opening low quote „
Compose + , " (Ubuntu)

Compose keys on X Windows

Bonus time: Where is that compose key?

Using Ubuntu? The traditional instructions about compose keys, don’t work per default on recent versions. Nor does the ISO_Level3_Shift method, aka AltGr.

You can re-enable Compose using gnome-tweaks

sudo apt install gnome-tweaks

Then launch Tweaks

  1. Go to Keyboard & Mouse.
  2. Choose something other than disabled for the Compose Key option.

I set Compose to be Capslock because, like hundreds of millions of computer users, I have never pressed that key deliberately to get capital letters and it seems unlikely that this will change. This all means that e.g I now type ü as Capslock+" u and as Capslock + < ". Which is reasonably mnemonic if you look at a US keyboard layout. Bonus: disables caps lock. There is an encyclopedia of these symbols at And you can, hypothetically, define your own.

You can alternatively (additionally?) enable ISO_Level3_Shift which does a similar thing AFAICT but with less configurability and less documentation online

Launch GNOME Tweaks

  1. Go to Keyboard & Mouse
  2. Click on Additional Layout Options
  3. Expand Miscellaneous compatibility options, check Enable extra typographic characters

It is not clear to me how I actually enter Greek characters using either of the above methods. There is something called a dead_greek key? Is that real?

Or I could memorize some 4-digit unicode code points. That would be a great use of my brief and precious time on this sweet, sweet earth.


In every environment, including ones that don’t have good emoji support or are locked down by sysadmins who hate fun, you can use the emoji search page Emoji for copy and paste, which is a serviceable emoji index.

Bonus question: You know how you can sometimes get emoji suport based on typing their names? :smile:=😄? Where is the canonical list of those names? I can only find the pandoc list which is ugly and not very mnemonic. There must be a better one.


In recent Ubuntu Emoji are built-in via Emoji picker (right click), although AFAICT only on system dialogues, which excludes, e.g. the text editors and browsers where you especially need this stuff.

There’s also Character Map and Characters, two more-or-less interchangeable apps to find and type characters for you. Characters is nicer-lookin’ but has awful search, whereas Character Map has merely bad search.


You can open the emoji typer with ⌘ ⌅ Space


Very built-in these days, but I’m sad that cute apps like Dango which did deep emoji learning, never got traction.



Finding how to type that weird character

There is a nifty web app which solves a lot of these problems for one, called Give it a go. You can scribble a character and it tells you the unicode translation.

Similarly, shapecatcher lets you sketch it in the browser.

Advanced unicode molestation

Combatwombat’s Lunicode.js is full of programmatic unicode mangling tricks, e.g.

Wonky alternatives to the usual characters.

చօղҟվ ąӀէҽɾղąէìѵҽʂ էօ էհҽ մʂմąӀ çհąɾąçէҽɾʂ.

One can play with it at

Crucially, it supports Zalgo text, and various other stupid stunts from /r/Unicode/. In fact Zalgo text is a cottage industry, although I’m more of a trap text person myself obvs.



Fun fact: It takes reading of the spec to discover thatEmoji are banned from YAML, which is an important text encoding system. You can use escape sequences, but only in double quoted strings.

So, to write the subtitle of this page, you could say

"Writing with \U0001f195\U0001f41c\U0001f41c"