Let’s Fix Paste!


Okay, this is a rant.

Cut and paste is broken in most apps today. More specifically, it is paste that is broken. There are two choices in just about every application: “Paste” and “Paste correctly.” Sometimes the latter one is labeled “Paste and Match Style” (Apple) and sometimes “Paste Special” (Microsoft).

However, they have it backwards. Usually, what you want to do is the latter one, which is why I called it “paste correctly.” It is the exception that you want to preserve the fonts, formatting etc. Usually, you want to just paste the damned text in.

I mean, Jesus Hussein Christ, how hard is it to understand that when I go to a web page and copy something and then paste it into my document that I want to use MY fonts, formatting, color, and so on? Even if I do want to preserve those, I ESPECIALLY do not want you to leave my cursor sitting at the end of the paste switched out of whatever my setting I’m using. In the rare occasion that I want paste as it is done today, the keys I type are:

modifier-V              ! Paste (modifier is either (ironically) command or control)
start typing            ! Continue on my merry way
modifier-Z              ! Oh, crap, I'm no longer in my font,
modifier-Z              ! I'm in Web2.0Nerd Grotesque 10 light-grey
! undo the typing and the paste
space, back-arrow       ! Get some room
modifier-V              ! Paste
forward-arrow           ! Get back to my formatting
(delete)                ! Optionally delete the space
start typing again      ! Now where was I? Oh, yeah....

Note the extra flourish at the end because pasting is so helpful.

The usual sequence I type is:

modifier-V              ! Paste
modifier-Z              ! %$#@*!
search Edit menu        ! Gawd, where is it, what do they call it?
select Paste Correctly  ! Oh, there
start typing again      ! Now where was I? Oh, yeah....

This is much simpler, but has its own headaches. First of all, Microsoft binds their “Paste Special” to control-alt-V and brings up a modal dialog because there are lots of options you could conceivably want, and just wanting to paste the %$#@&* text is so, so special. Apple (whose devos must long for the Knight keyboard) binds it to command-option-shift-V, but at least doesn’t make me deal with Clippy’s dumber cousin. They put “Paste Style” on command-option-V, which pastes into place only the formatting. Oh, yeah, like I do that so often I need a keyboard shortcut.

The upshot is that the user experience here is so bad that the stupid blog editor I’m using here that actually makes me type in my own <p> tags is a more predictable editing experience. I can actually achieve flow while I’m writing.

Most tellingly, the most even, consistent, out-of-my way editing experience is getting to be LaTeX! Yeah, I have to type accents by hand, but at least I don’t lose my train of thought every time I paste.

The solution is simple. Make modifier-V be paste. Just plain old paste. Put paste-with-frosting on control-meta-cokebottle-V and give it a helpful dialog box. Please?

Photo by adam.coulombe.

14 Replies to “Let’s Fix Paste!”

  1. Amen, brother!
    I especially hate getting stuck in Web2.0Nerd Grotesque 10 light-grey. Exactly who was it who thought that was a good idea?

  2. What I do is keep TextEdit running at all times with a ‘temp’ page open (I also set my TextEdit preferences to default opening a new document as plain text in case I need to open a new one at some point).
    When I am copying formatted text, I command-tab into TextEdit, command-a to select all in my temp page , command-v to paste the clipboard over whatever I last had in there, then command-a, command-x to select all and cut, and then command-tab over to my destination application and command-v to paste.
    At the end of the day, I trash all my scratch TextEdit docs.
    It sounds like a lot (and really, it is more than I should have to do) but it works very well and can be done quickly and mindlessly. It’s such a part of my workflow that I don’t even really notice it anymore.

  3. I heartily agree. There is a lame workaround on Mac (so long as you don’t have carpal tunnel) in that Cmd-Opt-Shift-V seems to *consistently* map to Paste Correctly and is easy to remember because it’s EVERY stinking modifier key that would be used in a menu.

  4. For some purposes I resorted to the TextEdit technique as well (I thought it’s so silly that I must be the only one using it…), but by now I realised that it’s only a few applications where it’s a problem and I remapped the keyboard equivalents to give me correct pasting with Command-V.
    Solves the problem for my practical situations at least. And I suppose Word users simply have to suffer a bit more…

  5. You can record a macro in Word for “paste special” in text-only mode and assign to a button and/or key.. that’s what I did when using Word.

  6. While I do use the TextEdit hack (though with BBEdit, not TextEdit), the other thing I do all the time in browsers, is:
    Which, since the URL input line is a plain text field strips the formatting. And it’s easy to remember because it uses the Command-VAX command and I’m an old DECkie.
    I should probably teach my fingers that Command-LVAX can be achieved by Command-Shift-Option-V. Of course since I swap constantly back and forth between my PowerBook (with a function key) and my iMac (without), I’ll have to type it while looking at the modifier keys, because muscle memory doesn’t work near as well when they keep moving the keys around on you.

  7. Yes, yes I agree that pasting formatting is a PITA. Another solution is to use PTHPasteboard and configure it so that Pasteboards > Pasting > As Plaintext is checked. This setting is available in the free/gratis version of PTHPasteboard.

  8. I also use BBEdit as a composing palette. In fact, the tables I created above of key sequences I did in BBEdit.

  9. Imagine an app (say Word) configured as you suggested, where “Paste” is “paste just the text without formatting”. Then consider this situation:
    You want to reorganize a Word document a bit, moving some sections before some others.
    Select the section to move.
    Move to where you want them
    Start cursing as all the formatting in the pasted section gets obliterated.
    When most word processors were designed, the typical use case for cutting at pasting was move stuff within a document. This might have changed with the web, but I doubt it.
    On the other hand, I can’t really think of a situation where, if had had to copy something from the web, that my destination for it would be Word, so I may be biased.