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I've removed "hence" (misspelled "hense" in the checkin comment -- oops), because it's not clear that key (keyboard) and key (scale) are directly related. For example, the symbol at the beginning of a staff of music is called a clef, French for key.

At a guess, I might categorize the senses here as follows, with entries at a given level being in no particular order:

  • Thing fitting between completing an assembly, as in keystone (basic)
    lock opener (from physical resemblance)
    keyboard key, radio key (noun) (physical resemblance)
    input data, radio (verb) (thing used substitutes for use)
    basketball sense (physical resemblanceto keyhole)
    crucial piece or step (from the completion aspect)
    adjectival senses (playing the role of a key)
    guide (key to understanding)
    crypto sense
    database senses (key to retrieving information)
    notes in musical scale (basis of composition)
    key signature (general sense substitutes for specific)

On the other hand, the database sense are arguably more closely relate to "lock opener." Fundamentally we're trying to represent a non-linear structure linearly, and there are bound to be difficulties.

The original ordering was meant to reflect this (though it may not have). One the one hand, it's nice to put the musical sense together, on the other hand, it may be misleading. We should also be careful about moving senses around when there are translations present that may need to be renumbered. -dmh 12:13, 16 Apr 2004 (UTC)


A "key" can also be a symbol of welcome - as in "key to the city." i.e. "permanent welcome" symbolized by honoring an individual with a symbolic key. Rklawton 04:26, 27 October 2006 (UTC)

Tea room discussion[edit]

Note: the below discussion was moved from the Wiktionary:Tea room.

The last meaning for key as a verb is

Meaning: (colloquial) To use a key as a tool of convenience. Example sentence: He keyed the car that had taken his parking spot.

Key as a verb means to scratch with a key, which matches the example sentence, but I cannot understand the meaning at all. Is this a dialect issue? Wakablogger 02:15, 24 November 2008 (UTC)

The idea must have been to have a broad sense that included the "scratch, using a key as a tool of convenience" sense but allowed for other ways of using a key as an impromptu tool: lever, screwdriver, stylus, hand weapon, bottle and can opener, tooth pick, back-scratcher. But the scratch sense is the only one common enough to be referred to this way in my experience. Is it "of convenience" that seems strange to you? DCDuring TALK 02:41, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
I guess there are two issues. "To use a key as a tool of convenience" doesn't come across as clearly as I think a dictionary definition should, though it makes sense. The other is that I don't believe key is used except to mean scratch, but I was concerned that perhaps it has other meanings in other dialects. If you use a key to open a bottle, it would be wrong to me to say "I keyed the bottle." (Perhaps "keyed open", but that would be nonce usage.) Wakablogger 03:05, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
There may be contexts in which there are other possible uses for "key". I would favor having this sense of key rather than a separate sense for each context or each improvised use of a key. But I really don't know that all of the uses other than "scratching a nice paint job to make a point" would meet criteria for inclusion. DCDuring TALK 09:01, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
I would agree, I know of no use of "key" with respect to using a key as a tool, other than to scratch up a paint job. Using a key as a substitute for a screwdriver or a letter opener wouldn't have one keying the screw or the letter. On the other hand, I would think that using a screwdriver or a letter opener to scratch the paint on a car might still be considered "keying" the car. bd2412 T 10:12, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
The point that a screwdriver can be used to key a car is a critical point here. Clearly, the verb "key" is not keyed to (LOL) the noun "key", but has an independent meaning. If there are any other meanings relating to using a key as an implement, those can be added in a separate definition. I will update the definition later today. Wakablogger 21:18, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
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Verb, sense 7 (just added by an anon.): To link (as one might do with a key or legend). -- WikiPedant 18:35, 22 January 2009 (UTC)

Added 1 cite for now.—msh210 00:42, 23 January 2009 (UTC)
12 months, one citation. Looks like a fail to me. Mglovesfun (talk) 00:41, 22 December 2009 (UTC)
An array of quotes here: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9]; are any of these sufficient? Caladon 20:17, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
I was asked to comment herein. Many of Caladon's array seem to support the sense added, though there may be difficulty in distinguishing our seventh sense from the eighth ("To mark or indicate with a symbol indicating membership in a class."); for example, this one seems closer to the latter than the former. I don't find either of these senses listed in the OED's entry for the verb, though, FWIW, it lists many senses we don't and vice versa. Nota bene as well that the OED has five etymologically distinct entries spelt key for four nouns and one verb.  — Raifʻhār Doremítzwr ~ (U · T · C) ~ 12:07, 27 April 2010 (UTC)
I've added two from the list. They require checking to see if they describe the correct sense. Caladon 14:40, 1 May 2010 (UTC)
The 1976 and 2006 quotations pretty unambiguously support the seventh sense; however, the 1960 quotation could be taken as a citation of the eighth sense.  — Raifʻhār Doremítzwr ~ (U · T · C) ~ 22:31, 1 May 2010 (UTC)

RFV passed. Thanks for the cites, Msh210 and Caladon! I disagree with Doremítzwr (talkcontribs) about the 1960 quotation; I don't think it fits our definition for sense 8. That said, if our definitions evolve over time, we may have to reevaluate the breakdown of cites, in which case we may need to have a new RFV discussion. —RuakhTALK 01:11, 16 August 2010 (UTC)

"Key" as in a port[edit]

A question: how would "key" in this context be defined:
The river lies on the west-side of the town, and being grown very large and deep, by a conflux of all the rivers on this side the county, forms the haven; and the town facing to the west also, and open to the river, makes the finest key in England, if not in Europe, not inferior even to that of Marseilles itself.
? 15:44, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

  • Misspelling of quay? SemperBlotto (talk) 16:13, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
    • Not a misspelling. There are older reference books that have it, from which it looks like a variant of quay (the etymology for quay says it was originally key, but the spelling changed under the influence of French quai). I added it as an alternative form to quay. Chuck Entz (talk) 18:24, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

Missing sense: colour to be masked or made transparent?[edit]

As in chromakey (television), or the Windows Forms TransparencyKey property (in computing). Equinox 01:35, 27 November 2015 (UTC)