What is the name of the back arrow key on top left corner of the C64 Keyboard?

Is it escape or back? Also I don't recall using this key. What was the intended usage of it?

Commodore64 Keyboard Layout?

  • DOS Wedge used it early on as shorthand for SAVE. Other DOS wedges, like JiffyDOS, copies this. That's the only consistent usage I've seen.
    – Brian H
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 22:17
  • Was used to load Turbo :)... <---L
    – Amiga500
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 15:55
  • 1
    I used it a lot with 'Turbotape' fast loader, we all called it a backarrow.
    – Alan B
    Commented May 28, 2021 at 14:17

3 Answers 3


According to this source, which seems to have been written with visibility of ANSI X3.4-1963, the original ASCII standard, it's simply "a left-pointing arrow. This character was used as an assignment operator in some programming languages."

The character lives on in unicode as U+2190 where it has the formal name "LEFTWARDS ARROW".

It's unlikely to have been an influence on Commodore, but ← continued to serve as an assignment operator at least as late as Smalltalk-80:

enter image description here

  • 1
    In the Smalltalk (your example) language (created at Xerox Labs around 1970 and using their keyboards) "<-" was used for assignment - and it actually produced an arrow. Today the corresponding key is the "_" (underscore) key. So x <- 2 + 2 would be typed and shown as x _ 2 + 2. It's now recommended to use := (ie. : followed by =) as assignement-operator (like in Pascal) instead. The up-arrow was used for "return a value from function", and has been replaced - both key and font - with the ^ in Smalltalk. Not sure how this related/worked with C64 though... Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 21:19

It actually typed a left-pointing arrow. It's from an early version of ASCII (1963 rather than the "modern" 1967 version) that was used for the basis of PETSCII; in the 1967 version of ASCII we know and love today, this character was replaced with an underscore. I don't recall if it has a name; it's probably just "left-arrow" or something.

  • I suspect the glyph was chosen for position 0x5F because many devices would map codes 0x60-0x7F to 0x40-0x5F, and 0x7F was rubout. Note that that wasn't a "command" to rub something out, but rather an indication that something had been rubbed out (e.g. by overpunching all the holes). Someone reading a printout with a back-arrow could realize that he character to the right should appear where the arrow does.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 3:16

I only recall it as being referred to as 'left arrow' but I think it also had a function when used with the Control key, as some of the other keys did. For example in programming you might type: PRINT "Q" (was that the clear screen command, does anyone remember?) or PRINT " <-" There were different CTRL- combinations that moved the cursor around, cleared the screen and so on...

  • The clear screen command appeared as a reversed heart. The reversed "Q" was the command for cursor down. But that's different from the OPs question which referred to the key that produced the arrow up sign, not the cursor keys.
    – Peter B.
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 18:03

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