Using emacs 28.2 (build 2) on MacOS 12.6.5 on 16” M1 2021.

About six months ago, I updated emacs. Now all my old files have their higher-value characters spelled-out in octal format. For example:

What I see: I meet with Pena\234\364\362\371s sub, Georgette, at 1400.

What I should see: I meet with Pena’s sub, Georgette, at 1400.

Yes, they are valid octal characters (i.e., when I do C-x = they show as themselves). The coding system info on the mode-line is -UUU:-.

I’ve tried visiting the file using various coding systems via C-x <RET> r before opening the file in Dired. Nothing has worked.

1 Answer 1


The UUU: in the modeline indicates that Emacs opened the buffer expecting to find UTF-8 encoded text with Unix–style line endings. UTF-8 is generally the best choice for text today, so this is good.

If \234\364\362\371 is actually what you see, then the file is not actually in UTF-8. Specifically, the first byte (\234) looks like a continuation byte, but it should only come after a byte that starts a multi–byte character. It clearly doesn’t, which is an error.

Similarly, the other three bytes each look like the start of a multi–byte character, but none of them are followed by continuation characters. Thus all four bytes are considered to be errors and Emacs displays them accordingly.

I don’t recognize the coding system the file is in, but if you want to guess then you could use revert-buffer-with-coding-system to reopen the file with a different encoding.

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