I now use neither an iMac (as it was stolen) nor Windows (as I have not regarded Microsoft as an ethical company since it faked court evidence in a 1998 trial), but a free operating system called Ubuntu Linux and a free office program called LibreOffice. So, when I had to type French vocabulary worksheets for my son, I needed to discover how to type accented letters in this new environment. I'm happy to say that there is a way, that it is much easier than memorizing number codes, and it lets me type a surprising number of different characters. Mostly, if I guess how to create a character, I will be right.
Under Settings/Keyboard Layouts, I’ve set the right “Alt” key as the“Compose” key. That means I press and release the right “Alt,” then press and release a key, then another key, and I get a symbol that combines the two keys.
For example, a right alt then a hyphen and a capital L gives a pound symbol (money, that is), a right alt then an o and a c gives the copyright symbol. I do not have to memorize these key combinations because a pound symbol looks like a capital L with a horizontal line through it and a copyright symbol looks like a c with an o around it. Other symbols are created with equal logic.
- A vowel with an accent grave (à) is made with a ` and the vowel;
- a vowel with an accent aigu (á) is made with a single quotation mark (‘) and the vowel;
- a c with a cedilla (ç) is made with a c and a comma;
- a vowel with a circumflex (ê) is made with ^ and the vowel;
- a vowel with an umlaut (ä) is made with the vowel and the “ (a double quotation mark);
- common fractions (½ , ¼, ¾, etc.) are made by the two numbers, typed in order;
- superscripts are made by a ^ and the superscripted symbol;
- The “micro” sign (µ, which is the Greek letter “mu”) is made by typing an m and a u to spell "mu";
- a dipthong (two vowels joined into one character) are made by typing the two vowels in order.
- With a hyphen plus d, I get the Old English letter eth, which looks like a d with a cross on its stem (đ ).
- With a t and an h I get the Old English letter thorn (þ), which is pronounced like "th."
That problem is solved. I wonder, however, about an easy way to type the occasional Greek character or word. LibreOffice has a shortcut in its Math Module. I could type %alpha to print a lower-case alpha character or %ALPHA to get an upper-case one, and so on for the other letters. I could embed a formula in the text and do this, I suppose, but it is more labor than is worthwhile. Until the word processor itself recognizes the shortcut, I suppose I simply have to pull up LibreOffice's "Special Characters" palette and hunt and peck for the letters I need. (Back in the Old Days, on a Mac, I'd just type as normal but using a Greek font, then change my font back to a Roman-letter one, but this no longer works. Sometimes progress means making things harder).