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As a beginner to *nix, I was looking (not editing) at system files on my Apple laptop. I looked at ipconfig (with cat) and suddenly everything is formatted weirdly, even when I ls ordinary directories. Does anyone know what I may have done, and how to get it back to normal?

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Type "reset" in the command prompt. You might have to do it blindly. Also see:

Fix terminal after displaying a binary file

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