The Evolution of the Asterisk

June 17, 2021

At Lapham’s Quarterly, Claire Cock-Starkey traces the history of the asterisk, from its appearance in medieval texts to its modern-day use in footnotes and pseudo-censorship. “The asterisk (often used interchangeably with the dagger or obelus) persisted as an editing mark but was also frequently used as a caveat,” she writes, “showing that the passage highlighted by the asterisk was served by a footnote or side note. By the eighteenth century the asterisk was being deployed as a sort of censorship, covering up letters to represent a d * * n vulgar word without actually b* * * * y spelling it out. But, as W. Somerset Maugham points out, this has become somewhat outmoded: ‘We have long passed the Victorian era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby.'”

Image credit: Tom Magliery

is a writer and illustrator. She is the author of two illustrated books, Last Night's Reading (Penguin Books, 2015) and Sanpaku (Archaia 2018).

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.