Utility for special character use

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Special Characters using ALT+0xxx

There is a much more reliable and universal way to enter special characters into documents and e-mails than using the MS Word mechanisims to do it. First off, I don't let MS Word even get close to an e-mail text. It can introduce too many ‘non-standard’ characters into the text that look fine in the sender's PC but that doesn't look the same in many recipients' PCs. I use the ALT+0xxx method to insert special characters into the text for the following reasons: 

• First, its character set is limited to those characters in the International Standard Organization's ISO 8859-1, whereas MS Word goes way beyone that character set with characters that are imcompatible. 

• Second, you don't need MS Word's edit ‘engine’ to generate the special characters, because the PC's keyboard BIOS handles the ALT+0xxx independently (outside) of specific programs. In other words, ALT+0xxx works with any program to include the dumbest of all -- Notepad. 

• Third, it works on any western language keyboard.

(See the bullets above? ALT-0149 does them very nicely, thank you.)

What does ALT-0xxx mean? Well, it means to hold down ALT key while entering 4 digits via the keypad. When the ALT key is released after entering the zero plus 3 additional digits, the special character appears. NumLock must be turned on so that the keypad keys are numbers. The four digits are a zero followed by the unique number for the desired special character (called the entity). If you go to Google and search on ISO 8859-1, you'll find many references and charts listing all of the ‘entities’, e.g.,<http://www.bbsinc.com/iso8859.html. I keep a ‘short list’ stuck to the side of my monitor as a quick reference to those I frequently use:


ALT+0193 Á
ALT+0201 É
ALT+0205 Í
ALT+0211 Ó
ALT+0218 Ú


ALT+0225 á
ALT+0233 é
ALT+0237 í
ALT+0243 ó
ALT+0250 ú

Other chars:

ALT+0128 €
ALT+0145 ‘
ALT+0146 ’
ALT+0147 “
ALT+0148 ”
ALT+0149 •
ALT+0150 – (en dash)
ALT+0151 — (em dash)
ALT+0160   (nbsp)
ALT+0161 ¡
ALT+0163 £
ALT+0169 ©
ALT+0170 ª
ALT+0174 ®
ALT+0176 °
ALT+0177 ±
ALT+0181 µ
ALT+0183 ·
ALT+0186 º
ALT+0188 ¼
ALT+0189 ½
ALT+0190 ¾
ALT+0191 ¿
ALT+0199 Ç
ALT+0209 Ñ
ALT+0216 Ø
ALT+0220 Ü
ALT+0231 ç
ALT+0241 ñ
ALT+0248 ø
ALT+0252 ü

BTW, the ALT+0160 is a non-breaking space. It's a very useful character. First, line wrapping ignores them so that you can force two adjacent words to stay on the same line (immune to wrapping), Also, where a regular space isn't acceptable, a non-breaking space is. Example, when you must enter a name in a field (like software registration) and you don't want to put a name in, try ALT-0160.

Following my original posting, Dave Furlong e-mailed me the following:


That's a good short list, missing only one character I wish people would use more—the em dash. It's ALT+0151. As a professional editor I dislike seeing -- used for —. The en dash residing at ALT+0150 is less useful for most people.

Typographical Trivia Time: the en dash is as wide as the letter N in any font. It's used to separate numbers, as in 5–10. The em dash is as wide as the letter M in any font. It's used to offset phrases—I think! The en and em dashes should not have spaces before or after.

The en dash is twice as wide as a hyphen (thin dash), and the em dash is three times the width.

In typography, there are also thin spaces, en spaces and em spaces, each the width of the corresponding dash. An HTML non-breaking space [ ] is a thin space, as is ALT+0160. An en space is also the width of a numeral, useful for stacking numbers in the old days.

Too few people are aware of the HTML left and right single and double quotes, AKA "curly quotes," and instead use the "typewriter quotes" offered by non-typographer programmers.

Dave Furlong

Thanks to Dave for his ‘dashing way’ and for his enlightened ‘slant’ on quotes. We both hope that this is useful info to help you prepare bullet proof documents and e-mails that look the same in recipients' PCs as they do in your PC. Note that I added the the single and double “curly quotes,” the en dash and the em dash to the shortlist.

Best regards, Dale

Last updated on November 30, 2003

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