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12.7.1 Keystrokes

Yes, when you use Emacs, you are apt to use the control key, the shift key and the meta key a lot. This is very annoying to some people (notably vile users), and the rest of us just love the hell out of it. Just give up and submit. Emacs really does stand for “Escape-Meta-Alt-Control-Shift”, and not “Editing Macros”, as you may have heard from other disreputable sources (like the Emacs author).

The shift keys are normally located near your pinky fingers, and are normally used to get capital letters and stuff. You probably use it all the time. The control key is normally marked “CTRL” or something like that. The meta key is, funnily enough, never marked as such on any keyboard. The one I’m currently at has a key that’s marked “Alt”, which is the meta key on this keyboard. It’s usually located somewhere to the left hand side of the keyboard, usually on the bottom row.

Now, us Emacs people don’t say “press the meta-control-m key”, because that’s just too inconvenient. We say “press the C-M-m key”. M- is the prefix that means “meta” and “C-” is the prefix that means “control”. So “press C-k” means “press down the control key, and hold it down while you press k”. “Press C-M-k” means “press down and hold down the meta key and the control key and then press k”. Simple, ay?

This is somewhat complicated by the fact that not all keyboards have a meta key. In that case you can use the “escape” key. Then M-k means “press escape, release escape, press k”. That’s much more work than if you have a meta key, so if that’s the case, I respectfully suggest you get a real keyboard with a meta key. You can’t live without it.

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