AskDefine | Define asterisk

Dictionary Definition

asterisk n : a star-shaped character * used in printing [syn: star] v : mark with an asterisk; "Linguists star unacceptable sentences" [syn: star]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Symbol (*), used to highlight a particular word or sentence, often to indicate a footnote.
  2. In the context of "sports|US": A blemish in an otherwise outstanding achievement.
    They came into the tournament highly ranked, but with a little bit of an asterisk as their last two wins had been unconvincing.
  3. Alternate of Asteriscus.
  4. A wildcard symbol.

See also


symbol used to highlight words or sentences


  1. To mark with an asterisk symbol (*)







Extensive Definition

this the typographical symbol An asterisk (*) is a typographical symbol or glyph. It is so called because it resembles a conventional image of a star (Latin astrum). Computer scientists and mathematicians often pronounce it as star (as, for example, in the A* search algorithm or C* algebra).
The asterisk is derived from the need of the printers of family trees in feudal times as a symbol to indicate date of birth. The original shape was six-armed, each arm like a teardrop shooting from the center. For this reason, in some computer circles it is called a splat, perhaps due to the "squashed-bug" appearance of the asterisk on many early line printers.
Many cultures have their own unique version of the asterisk. In Japan a character with a similar use (※) looks like an X with dots surrounding it. This mark looks like the Chinese character for rice: 米. The Arabic asterisk is six-pointed. In some fonts the asterisk is five-pointed and the Arabic star is eight-pointed.


Written text

  • The asterisk is used to call out a footnote, especially when there is only one on the page. Less commonly, multiple asterisks are used to denote different footnotes on a page. (i.e., *, **, ***)
  • Three spaced asterisks centered on a page may represent a jump to a different scene or thought. See Horizontal rule.
  • One or more asterisks may be used to strike out portions of a word to avoid offending by using the full form of a profanity (s**t), to preserve anonymity (Peter J***), or to avoid profanation of a holy name (G*d).
  • Asterisks are sometimes used instead of typographical bullets to indicate items of a list.
  • Colloquially, asterisks can be used to represent *emphasis* when italics are not available
  • Asterisks are used to represent ratings of movies, restaurants, etc.: see Star (classification).
A group of three asterisks arranged in a triangular formation is called an asterism.


Historical linguistics

In historical linguistics, an asterisk immediately before a word indicates that the word is not directly attested, but has been reconstructed on the basis of other linguistic material (see also comparative method).
In the following example, the Proto-Germanic word ainlif is a reconstructed form.
  • *ainlif > endleofan > eleven

Generativist tradition in linguistics

In generativism, especially syntax, an asterisk in front of a word or phrase indicates that the word or phrase is ungrammatical.
  • I'm not / *I amn't
An asterisk before a parenthesis indicates lack of the word or phrase inside is ungrammatical, while an asterisk after a parenthesis indicates existence of the word or phrase inside is ungrammatical.
  • go *(to) the station
  • go (*to) home


Computer science

In computer science, the asterisk is used in regular expressions to denote zero or more repetitions of a pattern; this use is also known as the Kleene star or Kleene closure after Stephen Kleene.
In the Unified Modeling Language, the asterisk is used to denote zero to many classes.

Computer interfaces

In some command line interfaces, such as the Unix shell and Microsoft's Command prompt, the asterisk is the wildcard character and stands for any string of characters. This is also known as a wildcard symbol. A common use of the wildcard is in searching for files on a computer. For instance, if a user wished to find a document called Document 1, search terms such as Doc* and D*ment* would return this file.
In some graphical user interfaces, particularly Microsoft applications, an asterisk is prepended to the current working document name shown in a window's title bar to indicate that unsaved changes exist.
In Commodore (and related) filesystems, an asterisk appearing next to a filename in a directory listing denotes an improperly closed file, commonly called a "splat file."
In travel industry Global Distribution Systems, the asterisk is the display command to retrieve all or part of a Passenger Name Record.
Adding machines and printing calculators
Some international models of adding machines and printing calculators use the asterisk to denote the total, or the terminal sum or difference of an addition or subtraction sequence, sometimes on the keyboard where the total key is marked with an asterisk and sometimes a capital T, and on the printout.

Programming languages

Many programming languages and calculators use the asterisk as a symbol for multiplication. It also has a number of special meanings in specific languages, for instance:
  • In some programming languages such as the C programming language, the asterisk is used to dereference or to declare a pointer variable.
  • In the Common Lisp programming language, the names of global variables are conventionally set off with asterisks, *LIKE-THIS*.
  • In the Fortran programming language, and in some dialects of the Pascal programming language, a double asterisk is used to signify exponentiation: 5**3 is 5*5*5 or 125.
  • In the Perl programming language, the asterisk is used to refer to the typeglob of all variables with a given name.
  • In the programming languages Ruby and Python, * has two specific uses. Firstly, the unary * operator applied to a list object inside a function call will expand that list into the arguments of the function call. Secondly, a parameter preceded by * in the parameter list for a function will result in any extra parameters being aggregated into a tuple (Python) or array (Ruby).


The asterisk has many uses in mathematics. The following list is not exhaustive.
The asterisk is also often used, in all branches of mathematics, to designate a correspondence between two mathematical entities represented by a single letter — one with the asterisk and one without.

Mathematical typography

In fine mathematical typography, the Unicode character U+2217 () "math asterisk" is available (HTML entity ∗). This character also appeared in the position of the regular asterisk in the PostScript symbol character set in the Symbol font included with Windows and Macintosh operating systems and with many printers. It should be used in fine typography for a large asterisk that lines up with the other mathematical operators.

Statistical results

In many scientific publications, the asterisk is employed as a shorthand to denote the statistical significance of results when testing hypotheses. When the likelihood that a result occurred by chance alone is below a certain level, one or more asterisks are displayed. Popular significance levels are 0.05 (*), 0.01 (**), and 0.001 (***).

Human genetics

  • In human genetics, * is used to denote that someone is a member of a haplogroup and not any of its subclades (see * (haplogroup)).


On a Touch-Tone telephone keypad, the asterisk (called star, or less commonly, palm or sextile) is one of the two special keys (the other is the number sign (pound sign or hash or, less commonly, octothorp

Competitive sports and games

  • In colloquial usage, an asterisk is used to indicate that a record is somehow tainted by circumstances, which are putatively explained in a footnote supposedly referenced by the asterisk. This usage arose after the 1961 baseball season in which Roger Maris of the New York Yankees broke Babe Ruth's 34-year-old single-season home run record. Because Ruth had amassed 60 home runs in a season with only 154 games, compared to Maris's 61 over 162 games, baseball commissioner Ford Frick announced that Maris' accomplishment would be recorded in the record books with an explanation (often referred to as "an asterisk" in the retelling). In fact, Major League Baseball had no official record book at the time, but the stigma remained with Maris for many years, and the concept of a real or figurative asterisk denoting less-than-official records has become widely used in sports and other competitive endeavors. A 2001 TV movie about Maris' record-breaking season was called 61* (pronounced sixty-one asterisk) in reference to the controversy.

Barry Bonds

Fans critical of Barry Bonds, who has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs during his baseball career, invoked the asterisk notion as he approached and later broke Hank Aaron's career home run record. After Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, fashion designer and enterpreneur Marc Ecko purchased the home run ball from the fan who caught it, and ran a poll on his Web site to determine its fate. On September 26, Ecko revealed on NBC's "Today Show" that the ball will be branded with an asterisk and donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Horse Racing

  • In programs distributed at race tracks, an asterisk next to a jockey's name indicates that he or she is an apprentice, and in many cases is allowed to ride at a slightly lesser weight than the other jockeys. Such a jockey is sometimes called a "bug boy." In past performances, an asterisk is also used to denote an approximate distance.

Pop Culture

  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers use an 8-pronged asterisk as their symbol.
  • The popular Japanese Hip Hop/Rock group Orange Range has a song titled "*~Asterisk", which is also the first opening theme song for the popular anime Bleach.
  • The syndicated comic Doonesbury uses a floating asterisk (referring to the name "asterisk president") wearing a Roman helmet to represent George W. Bush.
  • The independent Hip/Hop label QN5 uses an asterisk as the name of a compilation series of the label's work.


seealso Character encoding The Unicode standard states that the asterisk is distinct from the Arabic five pointed star (U+066D), the asterisk operator (U+2217), and the heavy asterisk (U+2731).
The symbols are compared below (the display depends on your browser's font).


asterisk in Catalan: Asterisc
asterisk in Danish: Asterisk
asterisk in German: Sternchen (Schriftzeichen)
asterisk in Spanish: Asterisco
asterisk in Esperanto: Asterisko
asterisk in Basque: Izartxo
asterisk in French: Astérisque
asterisk in Korean: 별표
asterisk in Croatian: Zvjezdica (pravopis)
asterisk in Hebrew: כוכבית
asterisk in Hungarian: Csillag (karakter)
asterisk in Dutch: Asterisk
asterisk in Japanese: アスタリスク
asterisk in Norwegian: Asterisk
asterisk in Polish: Asterysk
asterisk in Portuguese: Asterisco
asterisk in Russian: Звёздочка (типографика)
asterisk in Serbian: Астериск
asterisk in Serbo-Croatian: Asterisk
asterisk in Finnish: Asteriski
asterisk in Swedish: Asterisk
asterisk in Turkish: Yıldız işareti
asterisk in Chinese: 星號
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1