What is Asterisk Origins Etymology and in Written text


An asterisk ( * ) is a typographic symbol or glyph . Software engineers and scientists sometimes refer to it as a “star”, for example: the A-star search algorithm for the A* representation. This symbol is used in various fields from linguistics , computing , mathematics , in the representation of certain events to sports such as cricket and baseball , telephony , among others.

In general, it is used to make footnote calls, although it also has some less common uses as a character skipping mark or a section separator. Since it has various non- linguistic uses .

In computing, the asterisk is also one of the most common wildcard characters .

Origins of Asterisk 

The asterisk was born from the requirements that typographic editors specialized in editing family trees of feudal families had, these professionals needed to indicate with a symbol the date of birth of a person. To do so, they initially adopted a form with six-arms tied at its center, each of the arms extending radially from its center, and its appearance was very similar to the splash of a drop. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as a ” splat ” in some computing circles today , perhaps because of the shape it might have had in the days of early printers.

Publishing software and some printers have difficulty rendering the six arms of the asterisk and use a five-pointed star instead, much like the Star of David . This deficiency has resulted in some Arabs not buying these programs due to the Arab-Israeli tension . This is why many systems are said to use the “Arabian Star” and give a unicode character: U+066D and an official name of “Five-pointed Arabian Star.”

In some fonts the asterisk still has five points and the Arabian star has eight. The two fonts are compared in the figure below (The representation will depend on the browser) which can be:

Asterisk Arabian star japanese asterisk
* ٭


It comes from the late Latin asteriscus and this from the Greek ἀστερίσκος asterískos , “little star”, it is so called because of its resemblance to a star .

In written language

This sign is used to inform the reader about a specific subject. Thus, the asterisk appears next to a word in parentheses and in this way the reader knows that at the end of the text there will be an informative note with this sign accompanied by a specific clarification. If there is more than one explanation in a text at the bottom of the page, it is not advisable to use this sign, but a numbering in parentheses.

– This symbol is often used before a word to indicate that it is not spelled correctly (eg “*There were more than 100 casualties in the accident”).

– In addition, three asterisks accompanied by a word are used when you want to avoid using inconvenient terms (“I was very angry and I told everyone to take it at c***”).

– In sacred texts, they are used to separate the psalms from the verses or to specify that in prayer it is necessary to pause for it to be performed correctly.

– In the field of linguistics , it is used to indicate that a word has evolved over time.

– Finally, in some dictionaries it appears before a date or a place-name (* Madrid 1950 means that the person mentioned was born in this city ).

From a historical point of view

The cuneiform writing performed on a clay tablet was the first support for writing messages with phonetic symbols. To complement the letters of the alphabet it was necessary to incorporate some specific signs.

Greek philologists of the Alexandrian period used the little star sign to communicate a correction in classical texts. The asterisk and the set of typographic signs began to be spread widely from the creation of the press in the 15th century.

In other communication contexts

– On telephones, two signs appear next to zero: to the left * and to the right #.

– Some electronic forms use this sign, indicating that an item must be completed mandatory.

– In computing it is used as a reference or multiplication operator.

– In the language of mathematics it serves to multiply.

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