a3nm's blog

In praise of ^W

— updated

Do you know about "^W"? This is Control-W, a readline binding to delete the previous word. For quite some time, I knew that you could use it like ^H to show off your geekiness^W^W^W^Wpretend that words are erased in text. Then, I noticed that someone I know used it regularly, started to imitate them, and now I'm heavily dependent on it.

The thing is that ^W is not intended to be faster because it's less keypresses than multiple ^H's. It's faster because you can use it to erase an unknown number of letters, up to the beginning of the word.

Let me explain. When you touch type, you usually notice it when you fumbled. Sometimes, you can even press backspace the right number of times and correct your mistake without even having to look or think, because you know the exact wrong sequence that you typed and how to fix it. In some cases, however, you fumbled, but don't know what the exact state of the text is, and you have to look consciously at what you typed to erase the right number of letters until you can start over. Yes, the burden of hitting multiple ^H's until the mistake is fixed seems slight, especially since you're usually looking at the text anyway, but I find it more distracting than when I subconsciously fix typos with backspace. There are also those cases where you're not looking at the screen, or when you don't have any feedback on what you're doing (crappy connections...).

Contrast this with ^W. The key is that your mistakes are usually restricted to one word. With ^W, you don't have to think about the current state of the text : you can just press ^W and start over from the current word. Small trick, but a useful one, and I discovered it quite late...

comments welcome at a3nm<REMOVETHIS>@a3nm.net