Punctuation: Asterisk*

Continuing Function 2: Sentence Enders.  This time we explore the Asterisk, which briefly stops information and sends us off somewhere else while holding our location with a referent point.

The Asterisk *

When writing, we often want to add an extra statement or comment about the detail.

That extra statement or comment is tangential, meaning that it is not necessary.  It may be background digression.  It may a comment creating subtle distinctions.  Whatever the reason, the comment is not necessary to the discussion above, so it is cast out of the text, usually in the footer of the page or in an End Note.

Footnotes are not reserved for scholarly information.  Author commentary is equally important to our communication.

Clarity of communication is all that determines the use of the additional comment.

When only two or three additional comments occur in a text, the asterisk may be used instead of the numbered footnote.  Or the writer may wish to distinguish scholarly additions, perhaps from other sources, and authorial commentary.  Reserving the footnote for the scholarly additions and the asterisk for the authorial commentary creates an immediate signal to the reader.

You will often see the asterisk in advertisements and on product packaging statements.  The asterisk sends you to the company’s “fine print”, a definite misnomer.  Fine means tiny rather than better.  The fine print provides warnings and restrictions, such as when a supply company ad touts 50% off.  The asterisk-directed fine print tells you that printer ink and toner is omitted from this sale.

Past to Present

The word asterisk comes to us from an ancient Greek word meaning “little star”, and that is its appearance on the keyboard.

Originally, the asterisk was designed to replace a letter in a word, such as when a writer wanted to use a curse word yet censors forbade its use.

Most writers switch to a euphemism.  However, doing so removes the vehemence and shock value from the curse word.  Writers defaulted to the asterisk to use d**n instead of dang.  Replacing a couple of letters in this manner passed the censors.

Laxity in censorship has removed this use of the asterisk for curse words.  Perhaps laxity is not the best word.  Censors have “relaxed” the rules by which they abide.

The little star for this use has died out, but computer software developers co-opted it.  It can be used to show omission.  Another use is to create a search field “wild card”.  This link explains that use: https://spreadsheeto.com/wildcard/  Other uses within the software world do occur.

A third use of the asterisk occurs with posts on Social Media sites.  As of this moment, denoting titles of longer works is virtually impossible.  Italics/underlining is not available.  What do you do if you wish a proper reference to a novel or a film or a musical album (CD)?  Most users are resorting to asterisks.  Enclose the title in asterisks, just as you would use double quotation marks to enclose the title of a story or an episode or a song.

Coming Next Week:  More on the Asterisk for Poetry, for Research, and More.