Completing our Survey of Uses of the Asterisk: Poetry and Research
with a little nattering about the Joy of the Computer over the Manual Typewriter as well as how to create Superscript and Subscript in a word processing program.
The Asterisk as a Poetry Star
An anthology of poems will make abundant use of the asterisk. When a poet uses a word that the anthology’s editors think the reader may not know or uses a word requiring a specific nuance of meaning, the asterisk is employed.
The little star is placed after the word. Over to the right or in the footnote position, clearly beyond the poet’s words, the editor will place the asterisk followed immediately by the better-known word.
Or the poet may use a word or phrase from another language which the editor again thinks the majority of the readers will not know. The translation is provided by using the asterisk.
When the poetic lines are not lengthy, a column of these helpful notes can occur. However, longer poetic lines prevent this explanatory column, and off to the footer go the notes. For a second note, use **. For the third, ***.
Here we encounter the problem with the asterisk as additional explanation or a writer’s asides to the reader. One additional comment works well. Two will work. Three stretches usability.
Shifting to a different character (symbol key) works only as long as it is small and above the line (called superscript). We cannot select the apostrophe (single quotation mark) as a replacement. Inserted symbols do not always shift to the top of the letter line.
- In the world of fonts, the upper part of a letter (like the top part of the k or the t) occurs above the middle of the line. This upper part is called an ascender. The asterisk* occurs in the ascender area of the line space.
- Gee, who knew we would need a lesson on fonts (typography) just to explore the asterisk?
We can force the symbol into the ascender area. In the Font box you will see the small x with subscript and superscript options. Knowing how to use this operation is essential when typing a math equation: 33 = 9. 162 = 256.
Thus, the ability to use innumerable symbol characters for multiple “asterisks” is available. We just have to know the bottom of each manuscript page and insert the asterisk comment there—and hope it doesn’t move if we add more information above. The asterisk must remain on the same page with its referent point.
This was the world before computer word processing software.
When Computers Save Sanity
My first college days were at the beginning of the personal computing age (not quite the Dark Ages). I used a manual typewriter, not an electric one—although those were available. Imagine the difficulties typing a research paper. When I needed to insert a footnote, I rolled to the bottom of the page, typed everything in, and rolled back up to resume. Difficulties occurred when a second footnote needed to be inserted. Worse, sometimes the last line of the page might contain the need for a second footnote. I learned quickly to add words to my writing to avoid the latter issue. The first issue, however, occurred more times than I want to remember.
The in-built footnote generator in word processing programs have solved the issue.
Even newer is the ability of small press publishers (print on demand) to place the footnote where it belongs in documents. Previously, all notes were collected at the back of the document as End Notes.
Footnotes vs. End Notes
Footnotes are better than End Notes. The information is immediately available to the reader. In the Reference Tab, in the Footnotes box, we can select Custom Marks for our footnotes. Custom is fun, but for professional documents, use the standard footnote numbering system.
End Notes do have one benefit over footnotes. The End Note divorces the material from the text. When might writers want to have comments separated from their writing? When we discuss reasons for our inclusion of doubtful material or when we track a trail that is only tangentially related to the text.
- A perfect End Note occasion would be a detail discussion of typography, when going into detail about baselines, ascenders, apexes, crossbars and ligatures, and the like.
The joy of footnotes is three-fold:
- Numbers are automatically assigned to each comment.
- The footnote comment automatically remains on the same page as the original information, for it is attached to its referent point until you delete the comment and footnote number.
- When you must insert information above the referent point and that information has its own footnote, the location of the footnote comment remains tied to the referent point and the footnote number automatically changes.
- In other words, you decide to insert three pages of material before Footnote 3. That inserted material has its own footnote, which will become 3 while the original 3 becomes 4 (or 5 or 6, depending on how many comments you add).
In the old typewriter days, adding comments to the footer of a page was tricky. Woe betide the writer who discovered an omitted footnote after multiple pages were typed.
Other Asterisks of the World
The United Nations has a specific sequence of symbolic characters as well as spacing rules for the use of the asterisk.
In some texts in which the author wishes to have both source notes (not citations) and authorial commentary, mixing symbolic characters like the asterisk with the numbered footnotes would serve. This mixed use occurs most often in scholarly material that melds research with interpretation.
The asterisk also denotes doubtful accuracy of the source material. Place the star then add the footnote explaining the reason that the information is not wholly credible.