, I logged into my account to send email to a woman who has an "e acute" in her first name. I couldn't use my laptop's Ubuntu to copy it into the shell. I looked for 'French' and 'Roman' encodings in the menu options but saw nothing.
How do you key accented vowels when typing in a shell?

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Depending on your terminal & settings, sometimes you can CTRL+SHIFT+u then enter the Unicode point by number.

Solution 1/
You can add a french keyword in your desktop preferences and type them like :
* é=2 key
* è=7 key
* à=0 key
Solution 2:
You can use compose key (to be defined in keyboard preferences too and type:
compose+'+e for é
compose+`+e for è
compose+`+a for à
compose+^+o for ô

@cosullivan I recommend the compose key suggestion, because it will apply across all programs. "setxkbmap -option compose:prsc" will turn that useless printscreen key into Compose. Or you could use "compose:caps" or "compose:sclk" to put it on Caps Lock or Scroll Lock.

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