The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Online typography for dummies

Emdashes for bloggers

NB: I needed to re-enable the compose key on modern Ubuntu to get typography nerd satisfaction.

TODO: make this a table.

TODO: 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 This 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.

: ⎇ <space> (Mac)
Compose <space> <space> (Gnome)

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)


Bonus time: Where is the 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.

You can also enable ISO_Level3_Shift method.

Launch GNOME Tweaks

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

Or you could memorize some 4-digit unicode code points. That would be a great use of your 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 servicable emoji index.


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.


⌘ ⌅ Space


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