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What Is an Asterisk?

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  • Written By: Rachael Cullins
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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An asterisk is the symbol *. It is used to signify omission or doubt in text or to indicate a footnote with additional information about a certain piece of text. The symbol is also widely used in mathematics and computer programming.

The word asterisk is Greek in origin, from asteri, meaning “star.” The symbol is meant to represent a star and was developed by printers in the Middle Ages. Asterisks are most commonly placed immediately following the word or number that accompanies an omission or footnote. Footnotes are usually found at the bottom of the same page as the asterisk.

The asterisk has numerous uses in modern language and typography. Multiple asterisks within the same word, such as s***, indicate the omission of an expletive. In academic contexts, multiple asterisks are used to indicate more than one footnote on the same page. The first footnote indication on a page is one asterisk following a word. The second footnote indication will use two asterisks following a word, and so on.

The symbol is also used in informal writing settings. During instant messaging or text messaging, the symbol is used to correct a word usage or spelling error. For example, if the user accidentally sends the word “form” instead of “from,” he or she may subsequently write “*from” to indicate and correct the error. The asterisk is also used to convey an action in informal text, such as *jumps for joy*.

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The symbol is also used in mathematical and computer science contexts. In math, it is used on the number pads of QWERTY keyboards and on calculators to signify multiplication. Computer programmers use the asterisk to indicate a variety of meanings within programming languages as well as to signify a required field in an online form.

In sports, the asterisk is used to denote doubt or special circumstances surrounding a statistic. If a sports season is shortened due to a strike or war, the league leaders in statistical categories for that particular year may be noted with an asterisk. The symbol became infamous in the sports world in the mid-2000s, when American baseball player Barry Bonds broke the record for most home runs in a season. The ball that was hit to break the record was purchased in an online auction, and the buyer branded it with a *. The asterisk was used to express the feeling of many that Bonds achieved the record unfairly through the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

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JimmyT
Post 4

I really have to wonder the whole history behind the usage of the asterisk and why it became so versatile as opposed to some other characters.

I really do not understand why parenthesis are not used for corrections or even brackets, which is what is done in research writing.

I really think that this is something that is a recent phenomenon and it is something that has evolved over the years from its previous uses in literature, but I really do not know.

I'm wondering anyone could explain to me the history behind the asterisk and why it became such a versatile character and how it has transcended several reaches of modern culture?

Emilski
Post 3

@jcraig - You are absolutely correct in the versatility of the character as in recent times it has become the accepted way to correct oneself when on a text based instant messaging system.

Usually with these instant messaging systems, someone cannot go back and fix their mistakes once posted, so in order to correct themselves they must write something to make sure that the typo does not become a misinterpretation of what they want to say.

Over the years the asterisk has become the accepted form of correcting oneself online and this is done, as opposed to just retyping the word, so the person may not become confused if the writer were to type something that was an actual other word that could misinterpret the article or confuse the person when they receive a one word message.

jcraig
Post 2

@stl156 - I remember when Roger Maris's record had an asterisk by it and that is a perfect example of something that is done in a negative way, that the person could not control.

The asterisk itself is quite a versatile character as it can be used for a variety of things besides to make notes that demean the value of things like in baseball.

A lot of websites that have comments, like this one, have it set that if someone writes a curse word it will show up as all asterisks so that the post will be available for viewing, with the exception of that one word.

This allows an otherwise appropriate post to be readable, despite the one mistake that was made in it. However, I still see some websites will not allow these posts to be read anyway.

stl156
Post 1

Besides having a literary meaning, an asterisk can be used to indicate that something was done in a not so honest manner or that there is something that justifiably demeans what is written.

The best example I can think of is in sports, especially baseball, as said in the article, and how some people connected to the steroids scandal did something not honest to achieve the stats they did.

In this example the performance enhancing drugs were seen by the public as aiding in the performance of the athlete and put their exploits into question.

Another example of such an instance in sports is when Roger Maris broke the single season home run record and an asterisk was put by his record because he played in more games than the previous record holder.

This instance was very controversial and included something that was not dishonest, but was seen as something aiding the person that demeaned the record.

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