A Unicode issue many people have is how to enter stray symbols not found within the range of normal entry utilities. For instance as a linguist, I may be entering phonetic symbols, logic symbols or random characters from a variety of languages. These go way beyond the range of “everyday” accented letters

Lately though, I’ve been introduced to a class of text expander tools such as TextExpander (Mac) and Breevy (Windows) that has truly been a life saver.

What both these tools is allow you to create abbreviation codes for symbols, words, phrases and even entire paragraphs. In my case, I created abbreviations for many phonetic symbols (e.g. “\e” = ə (Schwa) and “\n” = ŋ (Engma)). You can also create codes for math symbols (“;all” = (upside down A)), emoticons and icons (;hrt = ♥ (heart)) and even common words or phrases that you use a lot but don’t want to type out (;dvrk = Dvořák) or (;rdetr raison d’être) . Actually, I mostly use this tool for full phrases I use a lot in e-mail (e.g. ;lmk = “Let me know what you think.”) This is truly a multipurpose linguistic tool!

I’ve tried lots of input tools in the past, and text expanders have some very nice advantages. One is that the codes work everywhere from e-mail and Facebook to Microsoft Word and Illustrator. Also, since you define the abbreviation, you will be more likely to remember it. Typing numeric codes only goes so far. Finally, I don’t have to switch keyboards or open a program just to input one word or phrase. If you are truly working with two languages, then switching is practical, but for sporadic symbols and words/phrases, it’s a pain.

There is one drawback in that you have to design your codes so that you won’t type them elsewhere. You’d be surprised when a code like “urpr” might misfire when you type “surprised.”

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