For the comic book series, see Asterix.

An asterisk (*; from Late Latin asteriscus, from Ancient Greek ἀστερίσκος, asteriskos, "little star")[1][2] is a typographical symbol or glyph. 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, and six- or eight-pointed when handwritten. It can be used as censorship. It is also used on the Internet to correct one's spelling.

The asterisk is derived from the need of the printers of family trees in feudal times for a symbol to indicate date of birth. The original shape was seven-armed, each arm like a teardrop shooting from the center.

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 derives from the 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.[3] Origin Adamantius is known to have also used the asteriskos to mark missing Hebrew lines from his Hexapla.[4] 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.[5] However, an asterisk was not always used.

One hypothesis to the origin of the asterisk is that it stems from the five thousand year old Sumerian character dingir, 𒀭.,[6] though this hypothesis seems to only be based on visual appearance.[7]



Main article: Wordfilter

When toning down expletives, asterisks are often used to replace letters. For example, the 'f' word might become 'f**k', 'f*ck' or even '****'.[8]

Competitive sports and games

Barry Bonds

Fans critical of Barry Bonds, who has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs during his baseball career, invoked the asterisk notion during the 2007 season, as he approached and later broke Hank Aaron's career home run record.[13] Opposing fans would often hold up signs bearing asterisks whenever Bonds came up to bat. After Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, fashion designer and entrepreneur 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. The ball, marked with a die-cut asterisk, was finally delivered to the hall on July 2, 2008 after Marc Ecko unconditionally donated the artifact rather than loaning it to the hall as originally intended.



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

Main article: block comments

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, while not a programming language, 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.[14]


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.

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:

Generative linguistics

In generative linguistics, especially 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 a superscript "?" for the latter meaning.


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

Replacement for cross/crescent/star 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)[17] is one of the two special keys (the other is the number sign (pound sign or hash or, less commonly, octothorp[17] 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 states that the asterisk is distinct from:

The symbols are compared below (the display depends on your browser's font).

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
Combining Asterisk BelowU+0359&#857;CD 99 ͙
Arabic Five Pointed StarU+066D&#1645;D9 AD ٭
East Asian Reference MarkU+203B&#8251;E2 80 BB 
Flower Punctuation MarkU+2055&#8277;E2 81 95 
AsterismU+2042&#8258;E2 81 82 
Low AsteriskU+204E&#8270;E2 81 8E 
Two Asterisks Aligned VerticallyU+2051&#8273;E2 81 91 
Combining Asterisk AboveU+20F0&#8432;E2 83 B0 
Asterisk OperatorU+2217&#8727;E2 88 97&lowast;
Circled Asterisk OperatorU+229B&#8859;E2 8A 9B 
Four Teardrop-Spoked AsteriskU+2722&#10018;E2 9C A2 
Four Balloon-Spoked AsteriskU+2723&#10019;E2 9C A3 
Heavy Four Balloon-Spoked AsteriskU+2724&#10020;E2 9C A4 
Four Club-Spoked AsteriskU+2725&#10021;E2 9C A5 
Heavy AsteriskU+2731&#10033;E2 9C B1 
Open Centre AsteriskU+2732&#10034;E2 9C B2 
Eight Spoked AsteriskU+2733&#10035;E2 9C B3 
Sixteen Pointed AsteriskU+273A&#10042;E2 9C BA 
Teardrop-Spoked AsteriskU+273B&#10043;E2 9C BB 
Open Centre Teardrop-Spoked AsteriskU+273C&#10044;E2 9C BC 
Heavy Teardrop-Spoked AsteriskU+273D&#10045;E2 9C BD 
Heavy Teardrop-Spoked Pinwheel AsteriskU+2743&#10051;E2 9D 83 
Balloon-Spoked AsteriskU+2749&#10057;E2 9D 89 
Six Teardrop-Spoked Propeller AsteriskU+274A&#10058;E2 9D 8A 
Heavy Eight Teardrop-Spoked Propeller AsteriskU+274B&#10059;E2 9D 8B 
Squared AsteriskU+29C6&#10694;E2 A7 86 
Equals With AsteriskU+2A6E&#10862;E2 A9 AE 
Slavonic AsteriskU+A673&#42611;EA 99 B3 
Small AsteriskU+FE61&#65121;EF B9 A1 
Full Width AsteriskU+FF0A&#65290;EF BC 8A 
Music Symbol Pedal Up MarkU+1D1AF&#119215;F0 9D 86 AF 𝆯
Tag AsteriskU+E002A&#917546;F3 A0 80 AA 
Light Five Spoked AsteriskU+1F7AF&#128943;F0 9F 9E AF 🞯
Medium Five Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B0&#128944;F0 9F 9E B0 🞰
Bold Five Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B1&#128945;F0 9F 9E B1 🞱
Heavy Five Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B2&#128946;F0 9F 9E B2 🞲
Very Heavy Five Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B3&#128947;F0 9F 9E B3 🞳
Extremely Heavy Five Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B4&#128948;F0 9F 9E B4 🞴
Light Six Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B5&#128949;F0 9F 9E B5 🞵
Medium Six Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B6&#128950;F0 9F 9E B6 🞶
Bold Six Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B7&#128951;F0 9F 9E B7 🞷
Heavy Six Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B8&#128952;F0 9F 9E B8 🞸
Very Heavy Six Spoked AsteriskU+1F7B9&#128953;F0 9F 9E B9 🞹
Extremely Heavy Six Spoked AsteriskU+1F7BA&#128954;F0 9F 9E BA 🞺
Light Eight Spoked AsteriskU+1F7BB&#128955;F0 9F 9E BB 🞻
Medium Eight Spoked AsteriskU+1F7BC&#128956;F0 9F 9E BC 🞼
Bold Eight Spoked AsteriskU+1F7BD&#128957;F0 9F 9E BD 🞽
Heavy Eight Spoked AsteriskU+1F7BE&#128958;F0 9F 9E BE 🞾
Very Heavy Eight Spoked AsteriskU+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. Kathleen McNamee, "Sigla," in Sigla and Select Marginalia in Greek Literary Papyri (Brussels: Fondation Egyptologique Reine Elisabeth, 1992), 9.
  4. McNamee, "Sigla," 12.
  5. Parkes, "The Technology of Printing and the Stabilization of the Symbols," 50-64.
  6. Robert Bringhurst, "Asterisk," in The Elements of Typographic Style: Version 3.2 (Vancouver, BC: Hartley & Marks, 2008), 303.
  7. Houston, Keith (2013). Shady Characters. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-846-14647-3.
  8. Werner, Edgar (1997). Englishes Around the World: Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Australasia. p. 284.
  9. See e.g. Allen Barra (2007-05-27). "An Asterisk is very real, even when it's not". New York Times.
  10. Baseball Almanac - Scoring Baseball: Advanced Symbols
  12., Ad Council, August 8, 2008
  13. See e.g. Michael Wilbon (2004-12-04). "Tarnished records deserve an Asterisk". Washington Post. p. D10.
  14. White, F. M. Fluid Mechanics, Fourth Ed. WCB McGraw Hill.
  15. "Scrabble Glossary". Tucson Scrabble Club. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
  16. Complex Conjugate - from Wolfram MathWorld
  17. 1 2 US 3920926
  18. United Nations Editorial Manual Online, "IX. Footnote indicators"
  19. Fogarty, Mignon (November 15, 2012), "How to Use an Asterisk,"
  20. Zimmer, Ben. "The cyberpragmatics of bounding asterisks". Language Log, University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 24 August 2013.
  21. "Detailed descriptions of the characters (The ISO Latin 1 character repertoire)". 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2015-03-23.
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