I wonder if there is a good way to memorize the Option key . I almost always think of it as the Shift key, because it looks like a lower level and a higher level (the small hyphen elevated).

Or maybe a way to memorize it better is, what is the shape of this symbol for? I mean, what does it represent symbol wise?


Weird/cool question!

I think I went through a similar thought process at one point: the way I think of it is like a set of train tracks. The train enters at the left and reaches a fork or split, giving it the option of the upper or lower path to the right. In the glyph, the tracks are set for the lower option.

Shift does have its own glyph: , which can be remembered as pushing the case of the typed letter up.

  • so yours is the up and down option, and Daniel's is a left and right option. that's pretty good when I see the symbol, the image of a train track switching can appear. hm... now I get it... maybe it meant when it was invented that instead of a straight line from left to right, it has the option of going to item 2... so it doesn't have to go straight line to item 1 May 26 '12 at 4:57
  • 3
    Option is also more traditionally know as the Alt key, so expanding this answer out a bit further, the icon denotes alternate tracks. May 26 '12 at 8:13
  • The ⌥ symbol disappeared from Mac keyboards some time ago. It's now just labeled "option" on the bottom and "alt" on the top of the key, at least on my 2016 US Apple keyboard. IMHO, because lots of documentation still uses the ⌥ symbol, Apple ought to put that symbol back on the key and put parenthesis around the "alt". Nov 2 '16 at 22:27
  • 1
    I see the symbol as "taking the road less traveled"
    – Andreas
    Feb 5 '19 at 1:00

It's been suggested that the origin of the option key symbol lies in the symbols used in electrical diagrams to indicate a switch [1,2], allowing the electrical current to either go through the bottom or top route:

SPDT switch

See also the section switches on the Wikipedia article “Electronic symbol”.

I remember reading that this isn't just a suggestion, but is the actual origin of the symbol but I can't find an authoritative source on that at the moment.

  1. http://www.quora.com/Keyboards-computer/What-is-the-origin-of-the-Macs-option-key-symbol-%E2%8C%A5
  2. https://discussions.apple.com/thread/1864469

The easiest way is this:

There is only one key on the entire bottom row of the keyboard with two items stacked on top of each other -- just like the in question. I think this is a much simpler visual-mental association to remember.

  • Unless you have the Apple Wireless Keyboard, or a Macbook Air or Macbook Pro -- of the current Macs (in America), this is only true for the Mac Pro default (USB) keyboard.
    – Ken
    May 29 '12 at 2:30

I don't have an answer to the question, but I can suggest a solution to the problem. The two unlabeled modifier keys on the wireless & Macbook Pro keyboards are and ^, for "option" and "control," respectively. If you imagine that the ^ symbol is sort of a sideways "C," you can remember that's control. Since isn't "Control," it must be the "option" key.

Not a perfect solution by any means, but it's a workaround until they start printing the symbols on the keys again.


There is a slash, so you have the option of the side with the hyphen and the side without.


All of the European Apple keyboards show, on the keys themselves, the icon for not just option, but shift, caps lock, command, tab, delete, and return. Check out the different languages they have available.

The Japanese Apple keyboards, like the American ones, don't have any of these icons, so they can commiserate with us.

I really have no clue why they don't do this for the American (and Japanese) keyboards, since it's so ridiculously useful.

The good news is that they seem to sell these keyboards in America now, and "standard shipping" is free, so if you can deal with some of the keys being slightly different (like "return" being double-tall), you can order yourself a nice new Belgian keyboard and sell your old American keyboard on craigslist!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .