The Asterisk

The asterisk is an elusive being in the world of punctuation. It is most often used in texts such as books, articles, and Web Logs (commonly shortened to “blogs”) to distract you from the issue at hand* and give you something to look forward to; if one shows up, there’s a good chance that there may be more lying in wait. Like vicious panthers. Panthers of distraction.

The asterisk originated in the late 1700s by Captain James Cook, who, upon mapping the eastern coast of the Australian continent, was driven mad by the sight of a small herd of echidnas, drawing the little blighters in all his reports from that point on. This is why the asterisk is also used as a “wild card”.

This was loved by the general public; upon reading all his reports on his livejournal (a paper-based system at the time) the mark spread rapidly as a way of making little side notes, mainly because they didn’t have any punctuation for that sort of thing at the time, and this seemed good enough. Giving the critters eyes seemed a little creepy, though, so they just went with five or six points, or whatever.

The term “asterisk” itself was coined because there wasn’t anything separating asterion and astern in the dictionary yet, and people in med school simply DETESTED being associated in any way with those vulgar sailing folks.

* 10²+ 11² + 12² = 13² + 14²

This article is part of a series on punctuation. It’s pretty much all made up. Don’t underestimate the prowess of a panther, though. You’ve been warned.