57

We now casually use the Ctrl-C to Copy.

We also use Ctrl-X to Cut. I understand this choice. We cannot reuse Ctrl-C and the 'X' represents a cross. Crossing something out on a sheet of paper was similar to cutting it out.

Now... Why would we use Ctrl-V for Paste? The only thing I could come with is that it's close the other two keys and thus let's keep that functionality together...


I know that those controls have different meanings in a console. I'm not interested by the console use of those keys unless it is somehow related (I doubt it).

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    For such a common operation, isn't having the keys close a pretty good reason in itself? After all, some computer keyboards (e.g. Sun workstations) even had dedicated keys for those actions.
    – grawity
    Jan 13, 2023 at 15:55
  • 3
    @user1686 And before SUN it was XEROX - which directly inspired Jobs. There is also the explanation of them reassembling certain images, like V being an insertion caret or X looking like scissors blades, while Z is the "last" letter as in removing the last item and C just being Copy. I have a hard time to say which one is true or if the symbolic one is rather made up in retrospect, but I would believe creation being interleaved by trying to use the first letters of the lowest letter row, while realizing what neat association they allow - the later being the argument made afterwards.
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 13, 2023 at 16:18
  • @StephenKitt didn't say anything different. The mentioning of Xerox is purely in relation to user 1686 pointing out that Sun had dedicated keys before the Lisa (which isn't exactly true either as the dedicated keys only came with the SUN-2 introduced only after the Lisa. The Sun-1 had an almost classic ASCII type Keyboard).
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 13, 2023 at 19:33
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    Ctrl-V isn't the paste shortcut. The paste shortcut is Shift-Insert.
    – Mark
    Jan 14, 2023 at 2:29
  • 3
    @Mark yes I agree Ctrl+Ins , Shift+Ins , Shift+Del are the copy/paste/cut shortcuts for ages (long before Ctlr+C/V/X) I always assumed MS add the new ones because they where not able to write decent Keyboard handler ISR (any better old MS-DOS game has that ISR done better than windows) till today and combinations of Ctlr,Shift with Ins/Del is simply not reliable on MS Windows (till today btw.) because of the "complicated" encoding of the key codes send from keyboard for those additional key clusters like (ins,del), (nupad), (arrows)
    – Spektre
    Jan 14, 2023 at 9:52

4 Answers 4

126

As well as being close to X and C on most keyboard layouts, “V” is reminiscent of the caret used in proofreading to indicate the insertion point for new text, e.g.

 text to be inserted
          V
text being edited

or, as is typically done,

      missing
text with‸word

or even

      missing
text with⁁word

Larry Tesler, the creator of copy/paste, explains the choice thus:

The Lisa was the first system to assign XCVZ to cut, copy, paste and undo (shifted with the “apple” key). I chose them myself. X was a standard symbol of deletion. C was the first letter of Copy. V was an upside down caret and apparently meant Insert in at least one earlier editor.

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    Since I view the text being pasted as moving 'downwards' into position, regardless of what Fenimore Cooper's mason may think, ctrl+V makes perfect sense, as it points in the appropriate direction.
    – dave
    Jan 13, 2023 at 18:05
  • 35
    I think it's remarkable to actually have an answer that names not just when or what, but who invented this convention. Very cool. Jan 13, 2023 at 20:11
  • 3
    @supercat I would think that this is specific to your area/local culture, as all cases I remember from school or back in the times when anyone had to correct on paper first, insertions where always written above - or at the sides with an arrow pointing to the insertion point from above
    – Raffzahn
    Jan 13, 2023 at 22:01
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    Somewhat more people than just Larry Tesler would have to agree with this to get this into the Lisa. And I'd be surprised if it wasn't influenced some/most by wanting the four keys to be in a row, making it easier to use and remember them. P may already have been assigned for Print, may not.
    – TonyM
    Jan 13, 2023 at 22:03
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    @Nobilis: I don't think it's coincidence that ZXCV are consecutive. If the positions of e.g. the V and B keys were swapped, I think some justification would have been invented to use Command-B as the "paste" key.
    – supercat
    Jan 15, 2023 at 18:48
0

simple, on QWERTY keyboard, V is next to C ... so it is quick and easy to copy/paste.. not the same for an AZERTY layout of course. But as IT started in the USA, you can think that the QWERTY layout made it obvious to use collocated keys for these commands.

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    "IT started in the USA" - citation required. What in particular do you mean by "IT"? Is electronics required? Programming? Meanwhile, the EDVAC in the US was the 4th operational stored-program computer; the first 3 were in the UK. First business stored-program computer was LEO in the UK. (Yes, I am partisan in this).
    – dave
    Jan 16, 2023 at 23:16
  • 1
    AZERTY has X, C, and V in the same positions as QWERTY. Jan 17, 2023 at 17:17
-1

Similarly to why Ctrl-X is the "cut" shortcut. X is the closest a letter could visually get to the silhouette of scissors, a pair of open scissors in this case, while V is the closest one could get to represent something akin to an arrow or even a glue dispenser. Ctrl-P was already taken for "print", and the distance bewteen Ctrl and P would make it terribly inconvenient to use.

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    Was there a ‘print’ command back when these shortcuts were invented? Jan 15, 2023 at 18:48
  • 3
    Some keyboards had ctrl keys on both sides, similar to the two shift keys. Your ctrl-p argument wouldn't apply.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 15, 2023 at 19:46
  • @Chenmunka The one I am using right now has two on both sides, how could I not have noticed that, thanks for pointing it out, you are correct.
    – user23687
    Jan 15, 2023 at 21:16
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    Right-control was a relatively late addition in computer keyboard layout. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_key
    – keshlam
    Jan 15, 2023 at 21:50
  • 1
    Nonsense. The 101 key keyboard came out in 1985 and very quickly replaced the 83 key keyboard. I sold PCs then, and I would say just about every PC capable of running Windows shipped with a 101-key. The only small keyboard by then was the Mac keyboard (so it could fit in the carrying case)... which despite very few keys had command on both sides. A moot point, however, since we all deny Apple exists! Jan 16, 2023 at 8:11
-6

As the caret character [^6] requires use of the shift key, key [V] did not require the extra finger and thus more expedient in time and effort whilst using a standard keyboard.

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    Neither ^ nor v cause insertion. The insertion command is ctrl/v. Ctrl/^ is not a distinct character on an ASCII terminal.
    – dave
    Jan 14, 2023 at 15:44
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    @another-dave: Ctrl+^ is ASCII 0x1e, and is used by "vi" to switch between file buffers. Most terminals will accept Ctrl+6 (i.e. without the shift key), same as Ctrl+2.
    – fadden
    Jan 14, 2023 at 15:58
  • I stand corrected
    – dave
    Jan 14, 2023 at 16:07
  • But paste was ctrl-v, requiring an extra finger. Your argument makes no sense.
    – Chenmunka
    Jan 15, 2023 at 19:49
  • 1
    @Harper-ReinstateMonica: "It's been ctrl-V since Windows 1.0 in 1987" Not sure if that is a joke, but FWIW that's not true: Windows 1.0 used Ins for paste; Windows 2.0 moved to the CUA standard of Shift+Ins, and this was still the case in Windows 3.0. Ctrl+V only came in with Windows 3.1 (1992).
    – psmears
    Jan 16, 2023 at 16:31

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