In UnicodeU+002A * ASTERISK (HTML * · *, *)
See alsoU+203B REFERENCE MARK (HTML ※) (komejirushi)

The asterisk /ˈæst(ə)rɪsk/ *, from Late Latin asteriscus, from Ancient Greek ἀστερίσκος, asteriskos, "little star",[1][2] is a typographical symbol. It is so called because it resembles a conventional image of a star.

Computer scientists and mathematicians often vocalize it as star (as, for example, in the A* search algorithm or C*-algebra). In English, an asterisk is usually five-pointed in sans-serif typefaces, six-pointed in serif typefaces,[3] and six- or eight-pointed when handwritten. Its most common use is to call out a footnote. It is also often used to censor offensive words, and on the Internet, to indicate a correction to a previous message.

In computer science, the asterisk is commonly used as a wildcard character, or to denote pointers, repetition, or multiplication.


The asteriskos used in an early Greek papyrus.
Early asterisks seen in the margin of Greek papyrus.

The asterisk has already been used as a symbol in ice age cave paintings.[4] There is also a two thousand-year-old character used by Aristarchus of Samothrace called the asteriskos, , which he used when proofreading Homeric poetry to mark lines that were duplicated.[5] Origen is known to have also used the asteriskos to mark missing Hebrew lines from his Hexapla.[6] The asterisk evolved in shape over time, but its meaning as a symbol used to correct defects remained.

In the Middle Ages, the asterisk was used to emphasize a particular part of text, often linking those parts of the text to a marginal comment.[7] However, an asterisk was not always used.

One hypothesis to the origin of the asterisk is that it stems from the 5000-year-old Sumerian character dingir, 𒀭,[8] though this hypothesis seems to only be based on visual appearance.[9]



When toning down expletives, asterisks are often used to replace letters. For example, the word "badword" might become "ba***rd", "b*****d" or even "b******".[10] Vowels tend to be censored with an asterisk more than consonants, but the intelligibility of censored profanities with multiple syllables such as "b*dw*rd" and "b*****d" or "ba****d", or uncommon ones is higher if put in context with surrounding text.[11]

When a document containing classified information is published, the document may be "sanitized" (redacted) by replacing the classified information with asterisks. For example, the Intelligence and Security Committee Russia report.

Competitive sports and games[]

In colloquial usage, an asterisk attached to a sporting record indicates that it is somehow tainted. This is because results that have been considered dubious or set aside are recorded in the record books with an asterisk rendering to a footnote explaining the reason or reasons for concern. [12]


The usage of the term in sports arose during the 1961 baseball season in which Roger Maris of the New York Yankees was threatening to break Babe Ruth's 34-year-old single-season home run record. Ruth had amassed 60 home runs in a season with only 154 games, but Maris was playing the first season in the American League's newly expanded 162-game season. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, a friend of Ruth's during the legendary slugger's lifetime, held a press conference to announce his "ruling" that should Maris take longer than 154 games both records would be acknowledged by Major League Baseball, but that some "distinctive mark" [his term][13] be placed next to Maris', which should be listed alongside Ruth's achievement in the "record books". The asterisk as such a mark was suggested at that time by New York Daily News sportswriter Dick Young, not Frick.[13] The reality, however, was that MLB actually had no direct control over any record books until many years later, and it all was merely a suggestion on Frick's part. Within a few years the controversy died down and all prominent baseball record keepers listed Maris as the single-season record holder.[13]

Nevertheless the stigma of holding a tainted record remained with Maris for many years, and the concept of a real or figurative asterisk denoting less-than-accepted "official" records has become widely used in sports and other competitive endeavors. A 2001 TV movie about Maris's record-breaking season was called 61* (pronounced sixty-one asterisk) in reference to the controversy.

Uproar over the integrity of baseball records and whether or not qualifications should be added to them arose again in the late 1990s, when a steroid-fueled power explosion led to the shattering of Maris' record. Even though it was obvious - and later admitted[14] - by Mark McGwire that he was heavily on steroids when he hit 70 home runs in 1998, ruling authorities did nothing to the annoyance of many fans and sportswriters. Three years later self-confessed steroid-user Barry Bonds pushed that record out to 73, and fans once again began to call for an asterisk in the sport's record books.

Fans were especially critical and clamored louder for baseball to act during the 2007 season, as Bonds approached and later broke Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755.[15]

After an investigation by MLB revealed the Houston Astros' involvement in a sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 season, where they won the World Series, fans appalled by what they perceived to be overly lenient discipline against the Astros players nicknamed the team the "Houston Asterisks".[16]

In recent years, the asterisk has come into use on baseball scorecards to denote a "great defensive play."[17]

Usage in anti-doping campaigns[]


Other sports[]

During the first decades of the 21st century, the term asterisk to denote a tainted accomplishment[citation needed] caught on in other sports first in North America and then, due in part to North American sports' widespread media exposure, around the world.


Computer science[]

Computer interfaces[]

Adding machines and printing calculators[]

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:

Comments in programming languages[]

In the B programming language and languages that borrow syntax from it, such as C, PHP, Java, or C#, comments in the source code (for information to people, ignored by the compiler) are marked by an asterisk combined with the slash:

 /* This section displays message if user input was not valid
    (comment ignored by compiler) */

Some Pascal-like programming languages, for example, Object Pascal, Modula-2, Modula-3, and Oberon, as well as several other languages including ML, Wolfram Language (Mathematica), AppleScript, OCaml, Standard ML, and Maple, use an asterisk combined with a parenthesis:

 (* Do not change this variable - it is used later
    (comment ignored by compiler) *)

CSS also uses the slash-star comment format.

body {
  /* This ought to make the text more readable for far-sighted people */
  font-size: 24pt;

Each computing language has its own way of handling comments; /* ... */ and similar notations are not universal.



Fluid mechanics[]

In fluid mechanics an asterisk in superscript is sometimes used to mean a property at sonic speed.[21]


Human genetics[]


In linguistics, an asterisk is placed before a word or phrase to indicate that it is not used, or there are no records of it being in use. This is used in several ways depending on what is being discussed. It may be used to indicate reconstructed words in proto-languages for which there are no records of the pronunciation, grammar and words.[23]

Historical linguistics[]

In historical linguistics, the asterisk marks words or phrases that are not directly recorded in texts or other media, and that are therefore 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.

A double asterisk indicates a form that would be expected according to a rule, but is not actually found. That is, it indicates a reconstructed form that is not found or used, and in place of which another form is found in actual usage:


In most areas of linguistics, but especially in syntax, an asterisk in front of a word or phrase indicates that the word or phrase is not used because it is ungrammatical.

An asterisk before a parenthesis indicates that the lack of the word or phrase inside is ungrammatical, while an asterisk after the opening bracket of the parenthesis indicates that the existence of the word or phrase inside is ungrammatical.


Since a word marked with an asterisk could mean either "unattested" or "impossible", it is important in some contexts to distinguish these meanings. In general, authors retain asterisks for "unattested", and prefix x, **, †, or ? for the latter meaning.[citation needed] An alternative is to append the asterisk (or another symbol, possibly to differentiate between even more cases) at the end.[citation needed]

Optimality theory[]

In optimality theory, asterisks are used as "violation marks" in tableau cells to denote a violation of a constraint by an output form.[24]

Phonetic transcription[]

In phonetic transcription using the International Phonetic Alphabet, an asterisk was sometimes historically used to denote that the word it preceded was a proper noun.[25][26] See this example from W. Perrett's 1921 transcription of Gottfried Keller's "Das Fähnlein der sieben Aufrechten":[27]

ˈkɑinə ˈreːdə, virt ˈniçts daˈraˑus! zɑːktə *ˈheːdigər ˈkurts.
(»Keine Rede, wird nichts daraus!« sagte Hediger kurz.)

This diacritic isn't often used.[28]


The asterisk has many uses in mathematics. The following list highlights some common uses and is not exhaustive.

as a unary operator, denoted in prefix notation
as a unary operator, written as a subscript
as a unary operator, written as a superscript
as a binary operator, in infix notation

The asterisk is used in all branches of mathematics to designate a correspondence between two quantities denoted by the same letter – one with the asterisk and one without.

Mathematical typography[]

In fine mathematical typography, the Unicode character U+2217 ASTERISK OPERATOR (in HTML, ∗) is available. 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.


Religious texts[]

Star of Life[]

The Star of Life may represent emergency medical services

A Star of Life, a six bar star overlaid with the Rod of Asclepius (the symbol of health), may be used as an alternative to cross or crescent symbols on ambulances.

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 (***).


On a Touch-Tone telephone keypad, the asterisk (called star, or less commonly, palm or sextile)[31] is one of the two special keys (the other is the number sign (pound sign or hash, hex or, less commonly, octothorp[31] or square)), and is found to the left of the zero. They are used to navigate menus in Touch-Tone systems such as voice mail, or in vertical service codes.


Asterisks used to illustrate a section break in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


The Unicode standard has a variety of asterisk-like characters, compared in the table below. (Characters will display differently in different browsers and fonts.)

Asterisk Asterisk operator Heavy asterisk Small asterisk Full-width asterisk Open-centre asterisk
Low asterisk Arabic star East Asian reference mark Teardrop-spoked asterisk Sixteen-pointed asterisk
Name Unicode Decimal UTF-8 HTML Displayed
Asterisk U+002A &#42; 2A &ast; and &midast;
(HTML5 only)[37]
Combining Asterisk Below U+0359 &#857; CD 99   ͙
Arabic Five Pointed Star U+066D &#1645; D9 AD   ٭
East Asian Reference Mark U+203B &#8251; E2 80 BB  
Flower Punctuation Mark U+2055 &#8277; E2 81 95  
Asterism U+2042 &#8258; E2 81 82  
Low Asterisk U+204E &#8270; E2 81 8E  
Two Asterisks Aligned Vertically U+2051 &#8273; E2 81 91  
Combining Asterisk Above U+20F0 &#8432; E2 83 B0  
Asterisk Operator U+2217 &#8727; E2 88 97 &lowast; (HTML
and HTML5)
Circled Asterisk Operator U+229B &#8859; E2 8A 9B &circledast; and
(HTML5 only)
Four Teardrop-Spoked Asterisk U+2722 &#10018; E2 9C A2  
Four Balloon-Spoked Asterisk U+2723 &#10019; E2 9C A3  
Heavy Four Balloon-Spoked Asterisk U+2724 &#10020; E2 9C A4  
Four Club-Spoked Asterisk U+2725 &#10021; E2 9C A5  
Heavy Asterisk U+2731 &#10033; E2 9C B1  
Open Centre Asterisk U+2732 &#10034; E2 9C B2  
Eight Spoked Asterisk U+2733 &#10035; E2 9C B3  
Sixteen Pointed Asterisk U+273A &#10042; E2 9C BA  
Teardrop-Spoked Asterisk U+273B &#10043; E2 9C BB  
Open Centre Teardrop-Spoked Asterisk U+273C &#10044; E2 9C BC  
Heavy Teardrop-Spoked Asterisk U+273D &#10045; E2 9C BD  
Heavy Teardrop-Spoked Pinwheel Asterisk U+2743 &#10051; E2 9D 83  
Balloon-Spoked Asterisk U+2749 &#10057; E2 9D 89  
Six Teardrop-Spoked Propeller Asterisk U+274A &#10058; E2 9D 8A  
Heavy Eight Teardrop-Spoked Propeller Asterisk U+274B &#10059; E2 9D 8B  
Squared Asterisk U+29C6 &#10694; E2 A7 86  
Equals With Asterisk U+2A6E &#10862; E2 A9 AE  
Slavonic Asterisk U+A673 &#42611; EA 99 B3  
Small Asterisk U+FE61 &#65121; EF B9 A1  
Full Width Asterisk U+FF0A &#65290; EF BC 8A  
Music Symbol Pedal Up Mark U+1D1AF &#119215; F0 9D 86 AF   𝆯
Tag Asterisk U+E002A &#917546; F3 A0 80 AA  
Light Five Spoked Asterisk U+1F7AF &#128943; F0 9F 9E AF   🞯
Medium Five Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B0 &#128944; F0 9F 9E B0   🞰
Bold Five Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B1 &#128945; F0 9F 9E B1   🞱
Heavy Five Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B2 &#128946; F0 9F 9E B2   🞲
Very Heavy Five Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B3 &#128947; F0 9F 9E B3   🞳
Extremely Heavy Five Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B4 &#128948; F0 9F 9E B4   🞴
Light Six Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B5 &#128949; F0 9F 9E B5   🞵
Medium Six Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B6 &#128950; F0 9F 9E B6   🞶
Bold Six Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B7 &#128951; F0 9F 9E B7   🞷
Heavy Six Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B8 &#128952; F0 9F 9E B8   🞸
Very Heavy Six Spoked Asterisk U+1F7B9 &#128953; F0 9F 9E B9   🞹
Extremely Heavy Six Spoked Asterisk U+1F7BA &#128954; F0 9F 9E BA   🞺
Light Eight Spoked Asterisk U+1F7BB &#128955; F0 9F 9E BB   🞻
Medium Eight Spoked Asterisk U+1F7BC &#128956; F0 9F 9E BC   🞼
Bold Eight Spoked Asterisk U+1F7BD &#128957; F0 9F 9E BD   🞽
Heavy Eight Spoked Asterisk U+1F7BE &#128958; F0 9F 9E BE   🞾
Very Heavy Eight Spoked Asterisk U+1F7BF &#128959; F0 9F 9E BF   🞿

See also[]



  1. ^ "asterisk", American Heritage Dictionary
  2. ^ ἀστερίσκος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ Seddon, Tony (2016). Essential Type: An Illustrated Guide to Understanding and Using Fonts. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300222371.
  4. ^ D'Arcy, Patrick (June 7, 2017). "32 mysterious symbols made by early humans". ted.com. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  5. ^ Kathleen McNamee, "Sigla," in Sigla and Select Marginalia in Greek Literary Papyri (Brussels: Fondation Egyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1992), 9.
  6. ^ McNamee, "Sigla," 12.
  7. ^ Parkes, "The Technology of Printing and the Stabilization of the Symbols," 50-64.
  8. ^ Robert Bringhurst, "Asterisk," in The Elements of Typographic Style: Version 3.2 (Vancouver, BC: Hartley & Marks, 2008), 303.
  9. ^ Houston, Keith (2013). Shady Characters. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-846-14647-3.
  10. ^ Werner, Edgar (1997). Englishes Around the World: Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Australasia. p. 284.
  11. ^ Wutiolarn, Nopsarun, and Damrong Attaprechakul. A study of nonstandard orthography and vowel omission in an international online game: AuditionSEA. Language Institute, Thammasat University, 2012.
  12. ^ Allen Barra (2007-05-27). "An Asterisk is very real, even when it's not". New York Times.
  13. ^ a b c Barra, Allen (October 3, 2001). "The myth of Maris' asterisk". Salon.com. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  14. ^ Mark McGwire comes clean, admits steroids use - ESPN.com
  15. ^ Michael Wilbon (2004-12-04). "Tarnished records deserve an Asterisk". Washington Post. p. D10.
  16. ^ "Let's Call Them the Houston Asterisks".
  17. ^ "Scoring Baseball: Advanced Symbols". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  18. ^ "Facebook.com". Facebook.com. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  19. ^ Adcouncil.org Archived 2011-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, Ad Council, August 8, 2008
  20. ^ a b Collister, Lauren B. (2011-02-01). "*-repair in Online Discourse" (PDF). Journal of Pragmatics. 43 (3): 918–921. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2010.09.025.
  21. ^ White, F. M. Fluid Mechanics, Fourth Ed. WCB McGraw Hill.
  22. ^ "Scrabble Glossary". Tucson Scrabble Club. Archived from the original on 2011-08-30. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
  23. ^ "Here is how linguists know that extinct languages existed". thelanguagenerds.com. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  24. ^ McCarthy, John J. (2007). "What Is Optimality Theory?". Language and Linguistics Compass. 1 (4): 268. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818X.2007.00018.x.
  25. ^ International Phonetic Association (2010). "The Principles of the International Phonetic Association (1949)". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 40 (3): 317. doi:10.1017/S0025100311000089. hdl:2027/wu.89001200120. S2CID 232345365.
  26. ^ Vachek, Josef (1989) [1987]. "Remarks on redundancy in written language with special regard to capitalization of graphemes". In Luelsdorff, Philip A. (ed.). Written Language Revisited. John Benjamins. p. 152. doi:10.1075/z.41. ISBN 978-90-272-2064-6.
  27. ^ Perrett, W. (1921). "dɔytʃ". Textes pour nos Élèves. Association Phonétique Internationale. 1: 4. hdl:2027/wu.89048935472.
  28. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K.; Ladusaw, William A. (1996). "Asterisk". Phonetic Symbol Guide (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 228.
  29. ^ "Complex Conjugate - from Wolfram MathWorld". Mathworld.wolfram.com. 2018-09-12. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  30. ^ Thomas MacKellar: The American Printer: A Manual of Typography: containing complete instructions for beginners, as well as practical directions for managing all departments of a printing office. MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, Philadelphia 1870, p. 55 (Google Books).
  31. ^ a b US 3920926 
  32. ^ H. P. Trueman: The Eclectic Hand-book of Printing: Containing Practical Instructions to Learners; With Copious Quotations from Standard Works; Forming a Complete Guide to the Art of Printing. Second ion, Abel Heywood & Son, London 1880, p. 27 Google Books),
  33. ^ a b Walter Thomas Rogers: A Manual of Bibliography: Being an Introduction to the Knowledge of Books, Library Management and the Art of Cataloguing, with a List of Bibliographical Works of Reference, a Latin-English and English-Latin Topographical Index of Ancient Printing Centres, and a Glossary. H. Grevel & Co., London 1891, p. 184 (Google Books).
  34. ^ United Nations Editorial Manual Online, IX. Footnote indicators
  35. ^ Fogarty, Mignon (November 15, 2012), "How to Use an Asterisk," QuickandDirtyTips.com
  36. ^ Zimmer, Ben. "The cyberpragmatics of bounding asterisks". Language Log, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  37. ^ HTML5 is the only version of HTML that has a named entity for the asterisk: "The following sections present the complete lists of character entity references.") and ("ast;").