AskDefine | Define backspace

Dictionary Definition

backspace v : hit the backspace key on a computer or typewriter keyboard; "To erase, you must backspace"

User Contributed Dictionary



back + space


  1. The key on a typewriter that moves the head one position backwards.
  2. A keyboard key used for removing a character behind the cursor, and moving the cursor one position backwards.



  1. To remove a character behind a cursor.
  2. To move a magnetic tape to a previous block.


Extensive Definition

Backspace is the keyboard key that originally pushed the typewriter carriage one position backwards, and in modern computer displays moves the cursor one position backwards, deletes the preceding character, and shifts back the text after it by one position.
In typewriters, a typist would, for example, type a lowercase letter A with acute accent (á) by typing a lowercase letter A, backspace and then the acute accent key (also known as overstrike). This is the basis for such spacing modifiers in computer character sets such as the ASCII caret (^, for the circumflex accent). Backspace composition no longer works with digital displays or typesetting systems. It has to some degree been replaced with the combining diacritical marks mechanism of Unicode, though such characters do not work well with many fonts, and precomposed characters continue to be used. Some software like TeX or Microsoft Windows use the opposite method for diacritical marks, namely positioning the accent first, and then the base letter on its position.
Pressing the backspace key on a computer terminal would generate the ASCII code 08, BS or Backspace, which would delete the preceding character. That control code could also be accessed by pressing Control-H, as H is the eighth letter of the Latin alphabet. Terminals which do not have the backspace code mapped to the function of moving the cursor backwards and deleting the preceding character would display the symbols ^H (caret, H — see Caret notation) when the backspace key was pressed. This sequence is still used humorously by computer literates to denote the deletion of a pretended blunder, much like overstriking.
Example: My slave-dri^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H boss decided to stall the project.
A more concise alternative sometimes seen is ^W, which is the shortcut to delete the previous word in the Berkeley Unix terminal line discipline. One ^W can replace a whole string of ^H's. This shortcut has also made it into the Vi text editor. For really embarrassing blunders, ^U (kill line) can outdo a series of ^W.
The backspace is distinct from the delete key, which in paper media for computers would punch out all the holes to strike out a character, and in modern computers deletes text following it. Also, the delete key often works as a generic command to remove an object (such as an image inside a document, or a file in a file manager), while backspace usually has no effect.
In modern systems, the backspace key is often mapped to the delete character (0x7f in ASCII or Unicode), although the backspace key's function of deleting the character before the cursor remains.
In a mainframe environment, to backspace means to move a magnetic tape backwards, typically to the previous block.
The backspace key is commonly used to go back a page when exploring folders in graphical environments, or when browsing the Web in web browsers.
Although we here use the term backspace key to mean the character which deletes the previous character, the actual key may be labelled in a variety of ways, for example delete, Erase (for example in One Laptop Per Child), or with a left pointing arrow.


backspace in German: Backspace
backspace in French: Retour arrière
backspace in Polish: Backspace
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