How we got the “Command” symbol
I was in need of the ⌘ symbol for a top secret project today, and not knowing the proper Unicode combo by heart, I fired up the old character palette to copy it. While there, I noticed that while all the other symbols had the expected names (“Erase to the Left”, “Upwards White Arrow”, etc.) that for some reason, Apple was calling our beloved “Command Symbol” “Place of Interest Sign” instead.
Since that name is not nearly as cool, I decided a quick Google was in order, and at the risk of my more pretentious “I already knew that” fanboy readers ridiculing me for my ignorance, I found the story on folklore.org by Andy Hertzfeld (one of the key members of the original Apple Macintosh development team during the 1980s) interesting enough that I thought I should share with the class.
“We thought it was important for the user to be able to invoke every menu command directly from the keyboard, so we added a special key to the keyboard to invoke menu commands, just like our predecessor, Lisa. We called it the “Apple key”; when pressed in combination with another key, it selected the corresponding menu command. We displayed a little Apple logo on the right side of every menu item with a keyboard command, to associate the key with the command.
One day, late in the afternoon, Steve Jobs burst into the software fishbowl area in Bandley III, upset about something. This was not unusual. I think he had just seen MacDraw for the first time, which had longer menus than our other applications.
“There are too many Apples on the screen! It’s ridiculous! We’re taking the Apple logo in vain! We’ve got to stop doing that!”
After we told him that we had to display the command key symbol with each item that had one, he told us that we better find a different symbol to use instead of the Apple logo, and, because it affected both the manuals and the keyboard hardware, we only had a few days to come up with something else.
It’s difficult to come up with a small icon that means “command”, and we didn’t think of anything right away. Our bitmap artist Susan Kare had a comprehensive international symbol dictionary and she leafed through it, looking for an appropriate symbol that was distinctive, attractive and had at least something to do with the concept of a menu command.
Finally she came across a floral symbol that was used in Sweden to indicate an interesting feature or attraction in a campground. She rendered a 16 x 16 bitmap of the little symbol and showed it to the rest of the team, and everybody liked it. Twenty years later, even in OS X, the Macintosh still has a little bit of a Swedish campground in it. “
I’m not an avid Swedish camper, so I don’t feel all that bad that I didn’t recognize this symbol, but I’m sure that story was somewhere on the System 7 startup discs and I lost 10 Apple street cred points in the eyes of the grizzled, bearded Apple historians for admitting I didn’t know ⌘ ‘s origins. However, I know I have many younger readers who only recently got on the Apple bandwagon and who likely did not know that story either, so hey, I took one for the team. Now at least YOU can pretend to be an Apple know-it-all, just like the big guys.
Of course, the hardest part of being a know-it-all is finding a smooth way to steer the conversation towards the topic you wish to smugly expound upon. If you find yourself stuck, just do what I plan to do – start referring to the Copy and Paste commands as “Place of Interest Sign + C” and “Place of Interest Sign + V” just to mess with people until they ask what the hell you are talking about, allowing you to nicely segue into the above story.