Computer Keys Meaning

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

One thing consumers dread is phoning technical support and having to deal with someone who is not fluent in English. One thing all these tech support technicians surely dread is having to converse with callers who are not fluent in keyboard. Having the ability to communicate verbally is essential to obtaining support via telephone, and not knowing the correct names for the keys on your computer keyboard can be the source of much frustration for both parties.

Computer keyboards have many keys that more often than not are clearly labeled with their names. These include the Tab key, Caps Lock, two Shift keys, Backspace, Delete, Insert, and some navigation keys Home, End, Page Up, Page Down and up/down/right/left keys that usually just have an arrow pointing one direction. All of these should be self-explanatory. Computers need some dead keys (so named because by itself a dead key does nothing). Dead keys are Shift, Alternate, Control; and on Mac, Command and Option. There are some additional keys few users ever need; these include Pause Break, and PrnScr.

While trying to communicate over the telephone, problems begin when people who do not know the correct names for characters start making up descriptions such as “that squiggly thing.” The ~ is properly called a tilde. Other keys are % (percent), open parenthesis, close parenthesis, _ underscore, [open bracket] close bracket, + plus, = equals, colon, ; semicolon, comma, and ? question mark.

Unfortunately for those of us who need to communicate verbally, there are too many keys having multiple names. The single quote key ` has no fewer than eight names: acute, back quote, grave, grave accent, left quote, open quote, or push! Could be exclamation mark, exclamation point, or bang; ^ is caret or circumflex; * is asterisk and sometimes referred to as star. Hyphen – is also minus sign or dash. Open brace {could be squiggly brackets, or curly bracket and its companion} closed brace, closed squiggly brackets, or closed curly. The vertical line | is a pipe or vertical bar. # is pound, number, sharp, or hash. The < character is less than or angle bracket and its companion > greater than or closing angle. Even the everyday quotation mark “ can be referred to as inverted commas, and the single ‘ as apostrophe or single quote. The character appearing at the end of this sentence is a period, dot, or full stop.

Without a doubt the most confusing name found on the computer keyboard, and the one so many people confuse even while using it every day, is the @ key. This key is properly called the “at sign” or “at symbol” or “commercial A” though is also correctly referred to as arobase, ampersat, or asperand. Those last two names for the @ key have led to endless confusion over the correct name for the & ampersand key.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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