This is the official manual for the latest Org-mode release.

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11.7.1 Special symbols

You can use LaTeX-like syntax to insert special symbols like ‘\alpha’ to indicate the Greek letter, or ‘\to’ to indicate an arrow. Completion for these symbols is available, just type ‘\’ and maybe a few letters, and press M-<TAB> to see possible completions. Unlike LaTeX code, Org mode allows these symbols to be present without surrounding math delimiters, for example:

     Angles are written as Greek letters \alpha, \beta and \gamma.

During export, these symbols will be transformed into the native format of the exporter back-end. Strings like \alpha will be exported as &alpha; in the HTML output, and as $\alpha$ in the LaTeX output. Similarly, \nbsp will become &nbsp; in HTML and ~ in LaTeX. If you need such a symbol inside a word, terminate it like this: ‘\Aacute{}stor’.

A large number of entities is provided, with names taken from both HTML and LaTeX; see the variable org-entities for the complete list. ‘\-’ is treated as a shy hyphen, and ‘--’, ‘---’, and ‘...’ are all converted into special commands creating hyphens of different lengths or a compact set of dots.

If you would like to see entities displayed as UTF-8 characters, use the following command1:

C-c C-x \
Toggle display of entities as UTF-8 characters. This does not change the buffer content which remains plain ASCII, but it overlays the UTF-8 character for display purposes only.

Footnotes

[1] You can turn this on by default by setting the variable org-pretty-entities, or on a per-file base with the #+STARTUP option entitiespretty.