Text substitutions and aText

Dan Cederholm has been designing a stylish interrobang (‽) for his next new typeface and tweeted that he needs to learn how to type one. John Gruber replied with his suggestion using text replacement in MacOS. I use a similar solution using aText to make typing these unusual characters easier.

You’ll find MacOS includes text substitutions in System Prefs > Keyboard > Text and any shortcuts you make will be synched across your devices via iCloud. Personally, I’ve always found Apple’s system too limiting and have been using various text expanders for a while.

After TextExpander moved to a subscription model, I tried aText by developer Trần Kỳ Nam because buying aText costs the same as one month using TextExpander and aText has very similar functionality.

The trigger key

I use an otherwise never used key to trigger text substitutions. It’s the section key (§) at the left of the number row on a Mac keyboard. That’s a handy place for my trigger key to be as it’s easy to reach with my left hand’s pinky finger. I type § before every code or text substitution shorthand.

Two uses for substitutions

I have two uses for text substitutions; general typing where I need quick access to symbols which otherwise require multiple key presses, and shortcuts for HTML entities when I’m writing code. My symbols substitutions include the interrobang which Dan’s designing, a cross and tick, a star, and even a shrug:

Trigger Result
§phone ☎ 01745 851 848
§shrug ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

When I’m writing code, I like to include HTML entities for punctuation and special characters including an ampersand (&), currency symbols, dashes, fractions, and punctuation:

Name Trigger Entity
Ampersand & §& &
Bracket left < §< &#60;
Bracket right > §> &#62;
Dollar $ §$ &#36;
Em dash – §— &#8211;
En dash – §– &#8211;
Ellipsis … §… &#8230;
Quote left ‘ §‘ &#8216;
Quote right ’ §’ &#8217;
Double quote left “ §“ &#8220;
Double quote right ” §” &#8221;
Comm @ §@ &#64;
Percentage % §% &#37;
Pound £ §£ &#163;
Euro € §€ &#8364;
Fraction ¼ §25 &#188;
Fraction ⅓ §33 &#8531;
Fraction ½ §50 &#189;
Fraction ⅔ §66 &#8532;
Fraction ¾ §75 &#190;
Pipe | §pipe &#124;
Registered ® §reg &#174;
Trademark ™ §tm &#8482;

After so many years of typing, my fingers naturally remember the keystrokes for these dashes, punctuation, and symbols. But, I don’t know their HTML entity codes without looking them up, so using text substitutions makes my coding work much simpler.

There are several text substitution tools available. aText is simple and effective and syncs across Macs via iCloud, but I wish there was a version for iOS. TextExpander does have an iOS version but I wish I didn’t have to pay for it on subscription. Apple’s system text substitutions do sync across Macs and iOS, but for now I’ll be sticking with aText as I don’t need synching to my iPad or iPhone.


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