The many pronunciations of "*"

« previous post | next post »

I've heard people pronounce this symbol as though it were spelled "asteriks" or "asterix" (and some folks even write it the latter way).  It gets really tricky when those who do so try to say it in the plural.  And even those who pronounce "asterisk" the way it is spelled seem to have to make a special effort to render the final "s" of the plural audible when they say it.

There was a good discussion of this metathesis on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange four years ago.

Computer scientists (e.g., in INTERCAL) and mathematicians often pronounce it as "star", or, more informally, "splat".

Here's a pronunciation note from Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010:

pron: While the final syllable of asterisk is usu. pronounced (-rɪsk) with the (s) preceding the (k), a metathesized pronunciation of the word, in which the (s) and (k) change places to produce (ˈæs tə rɪks) is also heard. This pronunciation is sometimes falsely analyzed as a plural, with a corresponding singular (ˈæs tə rɪk) Both (ˈæs tə rɪks) and (ˈæs tə rɪk) although occasionally heard among educated speakers, are considered nonstandard pronunciations.

By the way, the Chinese for "asterisk" is xīnghào 星号 ("star symbol"), in Japanese it is asutarisuku アスタリスク, and in Korean it is byeolpyo 별표 ("star mark").  The Hindi word for asterisk is taaraka तारक, but, according to this online dictionary, that also means "star; aster; Savior; liberator; protector; Deliverer; planet".

Just before posting, I saw on this forum that "asterisk" is also pronounced by some people as "asterik" (metathesis plus elision), also mentioned in the pronunciation note quoted above, although I don't think that I personally have ever heard it pronounced that way.


  1. Fernando Colina said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 4:00 am

    (*) Just as a footnote, I'd like to point out that Asterix is actually a famous Gaul (

  2. Adam F said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 4:35 am

    Can we blame the Gauls for the confusion?

  3. Keith Houston said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 4:48 am

    The prevailing theory is that "#", known variously as the hash mark, number sign, or pound sign, was christened the "octothorpe" when it was chosen for use on Touch-Tone telephone keypads in order to avoid confusion. The asterisk, which was the other non-numeric character present, was renamed as "star" for the same reason.

    (I wrote about all this here:

  4. Duncan said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:18 am

    Heh, as a kid and into my teens, I used to pronounce it aster-dick, most likely because as a book worm growing up in Kenya I'd seen it printed more than heard it spoken, and early on I had apparently only partially sounded it out and then lept to a conclusion on the last sylable based on what I was familiar with (Dick and Jane, of course), and never stopped to fully analyze the phonics after that.

    Of course that proved to be a rather embarassing pronounciation once I happened to use it among high school teen peers many years later here in the US. But I didn't make /that/ mistake again! =:^)

    These days (I think) it's astrisk if I'm being somewhat careful, astrik if I'm being sloppy, but astrix doesn't /sound/ unusual to me so I imagine I've heard it enough for it to be reasonably familiar. But it /feels/ foreign enough in my mouth saying it, that I'm relatively sure I don't normally /say/ it that way. (NW US for some years before/after Kenya, mountain-west as a teen, plains for college, NW again, and now desert SW for a quarter century.)

    The one I still have problems with if I'm not careful is vigilant, which I'll still read to myself as viligant, if not careful. But google says I'm far from alone, tho its viligant count is "only" 18.5 K, vs. 26.3 M for vigilant. I've no idea how many have heard me say it wrong and secretly laughed/cringed inside, but luckily it's not too common a word in everyday speech.

  5. Sam said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:34 am

    I like the idea of the plural being "asterices" (to go with index/indices).

  6. Ed Munch said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:37 am


  7. James said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 7:07 am

    Computer scientists (e.g., in INTERCAL) and mathematicians often pronounce it as "star", or, more informally, "splat".

    I think we want to distinguish pronouncing the symbol '*' from pronouncing the name of the symbol, 'asterisk'. I know the mathematician's pronunciation of the former is star, but do they also use 'star' as the name of the symbol?

  8. Chappers said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 7:10 am

    As a mathematician, I have never heard "*" pronounced as "splat", in any context. I suspect that it is almost universally called "star" in current mathematical usage, from my admittedly limited experience.

    The variants are probably confined to computer science and programming: there's an absurdly large list of programmers' variants of names for ASCII symbols listed here, for example. (INTERCAL being noted as introducing particularly silly ones.)

    Now, "~", on the other hand, has several common pronunciations in mathematics, (and even more conflicting rival notational meanings).

  9. Joseph F Foster said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 7:30 am

    Voicemail on cell phones says "star".

  10. Akito said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 7:32 am

    The /ks/ pronunciation is as baffling to this nonnative speaker as "ek cetera".

  11. Bean said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 7:37 am

    I can add that physics nerds also say "star". We straddle the line, and do both math and computer programming, though I'm pretty sure any time I personally talk about * it has to do with code. I suppose when I was in university and someone was deriving something, and naming some variable P*, it would have been said "P-star". (I would assume it's the complex conjugate unless given other information.)

  12. Vilinthril said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:07 am

    As a mathematician, I'd like to add that in my experience, “*” is exclusively both referred to and pronounced as “star” (or, in German, “Stern”) by mathematicians of all fields.

  13. George said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:11 am

    Where what the symbol is called is concerned, for me it depends on context. Sometimes it's an asterisk (such as for notes* below a text), sometimes it's a star (on a telephone keypad, for example). My impression is that most of those around me do the same thing.

    As to (mis)pronunciation, and more specifically to the influence, if any, of a certain indomitable and moustachioed Gaul, I did ask older French friends of mine many years ago whether they had any recollection of 'astérisque' being commonly pronounced with the last two consonants inversed PRIOR to the publication of the comic books. But I can't remember the answer! Anyone know?

    Did some quick googling just now and am none the wiser on that point but there is some fascinating stuff out there on the origin of Obélix, involving Saint Jerome…

    * I only use the term 'footnote' when it's numbered – is that just me?

  14. Dick Margulis said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:13 am

    My mother—b. 1920, Springfield MO.; moved to Cedar Rapids IA at 2 and to the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 7—whose mother was from Savannah and whose father was from Springfield, said both ek setera and asteriks. As her grammar was impeccable and her pronunciation of most words was indistinguishable from that of other literate midwesterners (I grew up in Cleveland), I attribute those two pronunciations (and a few other oddities) to regional dialect. I'll let you pick what region, though, given her peregrinations.

  15. parkrrrr said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:26 am

    I'm a mathematician and a C programmer, and I call it "asterisk," "star," or "pointer" depending on context.

    My former boss, who as far as I know lived his entire life in northeastern Indiana, called it "astrik."

  16. Ray said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:29 am

    in online contexts I've seen Starbucks rendered as *$

  17. Ray said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 8:31 am

    (idea: since the french call the @ sign "escargot," maybe we could start calling the * sign "starfish")

  18. Steve Kass said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:00 am

  19. languagehat said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:08 am

    The Russian name is звёздочка [zvyozdochka, stress on first syllable] 'little star' (the word for 'star' is звезда [zvezda, stress on last syllable]).

  20. George said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:14 am

    @Steve Kass


    A note in a manuscript in the Vatican Library on Saint Jerome's translation of the psalms: “Ac in secunda editione Obelis et Astericis ab eodem ilustratus”

  21. George said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    René Goscinny's family were printers, so he would have been familiar with this sort of thing. In other words, Obélix, despite his profession of menhir-transporter, probably drew his name from a typographer's mark, not a big lump of stone. OT, I know, but the meanders of life can be fun to follow.

  22. Coby Lubliner said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:27 am

    When I saw the heading, I thought the reference was to the pronunciation of "*", as commonly seen in print, as /ʌ/ (as in f*ck) or /ɪ/ (as in sh*t).

  23. richardelguru said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    Reminds me of the old poem
    ! * ' ' #
    ^ " ` $ $ –
    ! * = @ $ _
    % * ~ # 4
    & [ ] . . /
    | { , , SYSTEM HALTED

  24. richardelguru said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:37 am

    Or for our younger readers:

    Waka waka bang splat tick tick hash,
    Caret quote back-tick dollar dollar dash,
    Bang splat equal at dollar under-score,
    Percent splat waka waka tilde number four,
    Ampersand bracket bracket dot dot slash,
    Vertical-bar curly-bracket comma comma CRASH.

  25. richardelguru said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:39 am


    I lost my wakas!!!

    < > ! * ' ' #
    ^ " ` $ $ –
    ! * = @ $ _
    % * < > ~ # 4
    & [ ] . . /
    | { , , SYSTEM HALTED

  26. Bob Ladd said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:40 am

    I don't know if the /sk/ -> /ks/ metathesis is common in French (I doubt it – Akito's comment above could probably come from speakers of lots of languages) but surely the humour in the name Astérix and Obélix originates in the fact that the names of various Gaulish chieftains end (at least in their Latin form) in -ix. Vercingetorix is known to virtually every French schoolchild, and there are other less well-known ones as well.

  27. George said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:52 am

    @Bob Ladd

    Well yes, obviously, that's the joke. Most of the male characters' names end in '-ix' for precisely that reason. But I regularly hear French people pronounce the word 'astérisque' in the same way as 'Astérix', as often as English-speakers do. What I don't know is if René Goscinny was riffing on a mispronunciation that he'd already heard or whether the character has subsequently influenced how people pronounce 'astérisque'.

  28. John F said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    @Adam F: We can always blame the Gauls. I'm sure a lot of the confusion over pronunciation in the UK is due to Goscinny et Uderzo. By the way, kudos for your most excellent Colours album: big it up ina the drum 'n' bass massive.

    On the ks vs sk, the Ulster-Scots 'ax' translates as 'ask' in English

  29. Terry Hunt said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:03 am

    Further to the pronunciation of * as "star", there are two further such usages in the UK. One is in the grading of Listed Buildings, where the middle of the 3 grades is II* ("Two star"); the other is in the grading of GCE A-Levels, where the top grade of A has in recent years had to be differentiated into A and A* ("A star") because so many were achieving As.

    In addition, astronomers refer to the object Sagittarius A* ("A star") which is believed to be the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Personally, I'm for reviving Victor Borge's "Phonetic Pronunciation" version.

  30. Zeppelin said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:04 am

    In my German linguistics education, we generally called the * character (to mark reconstructed forms and such) Sternchen, "little star"/"starlet".
    I'm not sure what German automated voice systems call it actually, but Sternchen sounds plausible for that as well.

    Hm, I wonder what percentage of Germans now calls # "hashtag" instead of Raute ("lozenge")…

  31. aka_darrell said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:11 am

    What did typesetters call it?

    (Someone somewhere must have assembled an interesting glossary of typesetters jargon.)

  32. Jonathan said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:14 am

    Just to clear up the star/splat thing, in my experience (math + computer programming), 'star' is the name of the character and 'splat' the operation it (sometimes) represents in two popular programming languages, Python and Perl. It's pretty commonly used in Python, less often in Perl. It's kind of like '~' in logic, where the character is named 'tilde' but is often read as 'not'.

    Note that '*' can be read different ways in different contexts, even within Python. In the Python statement

    x = 2 * y

    it is read as 'times', but in the statement

    def function( *vargs)

    it can be read as 'splat'.

    I find it interesting that both math equations and computer commands can be either read fluidly or described character-by-character, depending on the level of the person you're talking to. I suppose it's not that much different from dictating a sentence versus spelling it out a character at a time. But as anyone who is their family's computer support person knows, it feels odd when you have to shift to the spelling-it-out mode when getting someone else to enter a command over the phone.

  33. Dick Margulis said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:15 am

    @Zeppelin: In English, lozenge refers either to what Unicode calls the square lozenge (⌑) or to this: ◊. The square lozenge renders too small here, and its exact shape varies between fonts. However, one or the other of these symbols was used widely in data processing applications in the punch-card era to represent one thing or another, given the limited character set available in those days. Maybe it's still used in that context.

  34. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:16 am

    This is the same metathesis which is seen in those who pronounce "ask" as "aks" (or "ax"), which might be the single most deprecated/stigmatized deviation from standard/prestige pronunciation in current AmEng (eliciting stronger disdain than "nucular" etc.). If as I suspect "asterix" for asterisk doesn't yield nearly the same degree of negative reaction, that's interesting.

  35. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:19 am

    A friend and colleague says "asterik", not "astrik", or so it sounds to me.

  36. un malpaso said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:41 am

    In speech, I tend to lengthen the /s/ at the end just enough to denote the plural

  37. bks said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 11:59 am

    Jonathan's comment brought to mind Stan Kelly-Bootle's telephone conversation with a tyro:

    SKB: Type WS
    Tyro: How do you spell that?
    SKB: I'll be right over

  38. Sybil said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

    @J. W. Brewer:

    In my experience, my impression is that saying "asteriks" and saying "aks" are fairly uncorrelated. (Possibly because the "aks" sayers call it "star" or something else that avoids the issue.) "Asteriks" is said by a not insignificant number of students who do not say "aks", for instance.

    Also "ek cetera" (which baffles me as well, @Akito, and I'm a native English speaker) seems to be fairly uncorrelated with either of these.

    Of course, I have not collected data on these matters, so you should take my assertions with a rather large grain of salt. But being exposed to lots of students in math and statistics I get to hear how a lot of youngish adults say these things, in NYC. (This includes a large percentage of immigrants, of course.)

    (And spell check gave me hell while I tried to type in this comment! It corrected "correlated" to "corrected" for some reason, as well, but interestingly did not try to correct "ek cetera".)

  39. Stephen said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

    I used to work on a computer system where pre-set parameter values (such as first or last) had to be passed to commands with a preceeding '*' to make it clear that this was a special value. So when copying the first 10 records from file A to file B to the command would be:

    In the UK everyone pronounced this as 'star' (e.g. "fromrecord star first") but in our Sydney office most people called it 'aster' (e.g. "fromrecord aster first").

    The first person from that office that I dealt with had an odd pronunciation and it sounded like 'as to' rather than 'aster'.

    Moderate confusion for some time.

  40. John Shutt said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

    In the vein of mnemonic devices for pronunciation, also called a "Nathan Hale" after the almost famous quote "I regret that I have but one asterisk for my country" (Jargon File).

  41. Plane said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

    @Akito, @Sybil

    Some people also write ect. instead of etc., and perhaps these are the same people who say /ek ˈset(ə)rə/. Just a wild guess.

  42. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

    Or another old poem:

    Cecil has a motor-bike.
    He drives it very brisk.
    That doesn't worry me at all;
    It is his *.

  43. ask a native speaker said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

    Perhaps this is obvious to everyone, but 'asterisk' is from Greek ἀστερίσκος 'little star' (diminutive of ἀστἠρ 'star'), via Latin.

    So the German and Russian versions given above are completely unsurprising.

  44. Yuval said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 3:17 pm

    Whenever I pronounce the plural, a cat comes around looking for food.

  45. Bob Ladd said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 3:27 pm

    @ George: I wasn't aware that lots of French speakers currently call the little star Astérix, but yes, what I was wondering about was whether Goscinny made this up just as a joke on Vercingetorix & Co. or also as a joke on French speakers who already mispronounced astérisque. Word-frequency effects being what they are, I could well imagine that lots of people who wouldn't have had a problem before the distinction Astérix/astérisque existed might have one now.

  46. Ken Miner said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 3:57 pm

    On the ks vs sk, the Ulster-Scots 'ax' translates as 'ask' in English

    OE had 'acsian' for 'to ask' I believe, and I used to think it was clearly the older form, the modern standard being a metathesis. But Roger Lass, a professor of mine in grad school, said both /ks/ and /sk/ have always been in competition, and still are in the spoken language.

  47. Amy Whitson said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 4:02 pm

    Regarding ek cetera…it doesn't seem particularly baffling to me, although I don't say it myself. I don't think K and T sounds are all that distinct at the ends of syllables (at least when I speak normally)–I think they are often unreleased and glottalized? I know that I said "jutebox" for "jukebox" for a long time, and my 4-year-old daughter mixes up these sounds (and also P) at the ends of syllables even though not so much at the beginnings (where I think they are more distinctive sounding).

  48. Carrington Dixon said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 4:05 pm

    I grew up around mid-century in north Texas, I usually call it "astrik" to this day.

  49. Jason Eisner said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

    @Amy, the reason that "ek cetera" is a bit baffling is that changing /ts/ to /ks/ doesn't make the term easier to pronounce, unlike the cases of "asteriks," "aks," or "nucular." It is the *opposite* of a typical phonological change, which would be /ks/ to /ts/. (/t/ is an unmarked consonant that shares place of articulation with the following segment.)

    My guess is that the "ek cetera" variant arose from a mishearing. But do people who say "ek cetera" also shop for crafts on Eksy, using the Nekscape browser? (I hear they sell etcellent stuff.)

  50. languagehat said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

    But there are many, many words starting with ex- and very few starting with ets- (none, in fact, as far as the dictionaries at my side are aware), and I think that is sufficient explanation.

  51. Jonathon Owen said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:14 pm


    Agreed. I think this is also why some people say excape or expecially—words with esc- or esp- are uncommon, while ex is quite common.

  52. EricF said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

    All y'all fogot liberry and strategery.

    For me, it's * star, . dot, ! bang and so forth in monosyllabic monotony, because I have to dictate Unix command lines to people every day.

  53. David Morris said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 6:50 pm

    I encountered the comic book before I knew the name for *. I think I knew the word 'obelisk', though.

  54. Mike K said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:13 pm

    In Hebrew, as in Russian, a dimunitive of star is used: כוכבית, which is the diminutive of כוכב. Interestingly, it shifts the gender from masculine to feminine.

  55. Joseph C. Fineman said,

    December 17, 2015 @ 9:45 pm

    I have seen a speculation that the people who say "asterik" have not actually lost the s. They have merely moved it over to "stastistics".

    If you look in the OED, you will see that "ask" & "aks" have been playing hide&seek with each other since OE, and in some eras & regions "aks" has been the prevailing literary form. In the US, however, "aks" at present seems to be mainly black talk, and there is a widespread belief that blacks invented it.

  56. John Walden said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 1:14 am

    You can probably imagine how some Spanish learners of English pronounce "breakfast".

  57. Peter Erwin said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 5:10 am

    astronomers refer to the object Sagittarius A* ("A star") which is believed to be the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Indeed. They also use "*" to designate actual stars in some cases. For example, M_* is the standard way to refer to the total mass of all the stars in a cluster or galaxy. (Formally, "stellar mass"; in at least some casual contexts, "em-star".)

  58. Peter said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 6:43 am

    @Joseph C. Fineman: really, stastistics? I find that almost impossible to produce at conversational speed. The word I know as getting an extra bonus s is substraction — I’ve heard that from several mathematicians, including both native English-speakers and fluent non-natives.

  59. George said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 7:55 am


    Yes, 'substraction' is an interesting one. A number of things seem to be going on in parallel, with their combined weight resulting in that extra 's' sound. There's the influence of a word like 'extraction', not to mention the whole instruction/construction/destruction family. There's also the discomfiting (for want of a better term) combination of /b/ followed immediately by /t/ (think of how we handle a word like 'subtle') but that may be less important: it's notable that in the French 'soustraire'/'soustraction', there is an /s/ sound immediately before that first /t/, which is not usual with the 'sous-' prefix

  60. 번하드 said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 9:54 am

    "ek cetera"? Easy.
    Think "ecce homo".
    Therefore, "ecce tera" == here's a big number.

  61. Robert Coren said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 10:40 am

    @Mike K: I don't know any Hebrew, but I'm not all that surprised by the gender shift. In German, it's a hard and fast rule that a diminutive formed with either of the suffixes -chen or -lein is neuter, no matter what the gender of the stem noun is. Perhaps Hebrew has a similar rule?

  62. Mark P said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 11:08 am

    I don't recall ever hearing anyone actually use the name of the asterisk. In my field (physical sciences) both the scientists/engineers and the programmers always say "star".

  63. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

    George: For "substract", there's also Spanish substraer and sustraer (though the wordreference dictionary gives me the impression that restar is more common). I don't know how a native speaker would end up with it, though. Influence of "abstract"?

  64. Bean said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 1:53 pm

    I think people probably hear "Ek cetera" before they ever see it written, and then assume it's one of those weird English abbreviations (Mr., Mrs., e.g.) that look nothing like the word they're abbreviating, and then probably ever give it another thought.

    As an aside, sometimes with the right crowd I'll say "etc." in Italian, "eccetera" (something like "e-CHE-tera"), where the T is legitimately gone, and no one worries about where it went. :) (This is not completely random since I do speak Italian.)

  65. Michael Watts said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

    In Python, 'splat' is used for four related operations involving *:

    def func(*args): # this function accepts a potentially unlimited number of arguments, which will be collected into the array "args"

    func(*args) # I"m calling a function, "func", with several arguments that are contained within the array args. For example, if args = [1,2,3], then func(*args) is func(1,2,3)

    def func(**kwargs): # this function accepts a potentially unlimited number of named ("keyword") arguments, which will be collected into the dictionary "kwargs"

    func(**kwargs) # I'm calling a function, "func", and passing the name-value pairs contained within the dictionary "kwargs" as arguments to the function

    # For example, if func's signature is "def func(a,b,c):" and kwargs is {"b": 1, "c": 4, "a": 0}, then func(**kwargs) is func(0,1,4)

    Those last two could be said to use "double splat".

    But, the symbol * appears in many other contexts in Python, and can't be called splat in any of those. If I read "THIRTY_TWO = 2 ** 5" as "thirty_two equals two to the fifth", it's not reasonable to say that "to" and "the" are alternate computer pronunciations of *; rather, the ** is a single symbol indicating exponentiation, and that symbol is composed of two characters which are both asterisks.

    Only the mathematical/astronomical readings, like "A* pathfinding" (read "A-star"), can really be said to involve pronouncing the symbol. And even there it might easily have a different name — in regular expressions, * is generally read as "star", but the name of the operation is "Kleene star".

  66. Rod Johnson said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 5:27 pm

    I have the impression that the sk > ks metathesis is standard in Singaporean English (and have heard the corresponding sp > ps (e.g., in the word crisp /krɪps/). Can anyone confirm this?

  67. maidhc said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 6:33 pm

    Following on John F's observation of "ax" in Ulster Scots, the English word "box" got adopted in Irish as "bosca", but you hear "bocsa" as well.

    Wikipedia says:

    The generally accepted view is that Vercingetorix derives from the Gaulish ver- ("over, superior" – an etymological cognate of German über, Latin super, or Greek hyper),[4] cingeto- ("warrior", related to roots meaning "tread, step, walk", so possibly "infantry"),[5] and rix ("king") (cf. Latin rex), thus literally either "great warrior king" or "king of great warriors".

    So Asterix could conceivably be a Gaulish name, or a Greco-Gaulish name (star-king). The Greeks did have colonies in Gaul. But Obelix, Getafix (in the English version), etc. are less plausible.

  68. ohwilleke said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 9:28 pm

    I recently had a similar discussion at my blog concerning the way to say the ideogram # aka pound aka number aka hashtag aloud in English. Pound is out and hashtag is in.

  69. ohwilleke said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 9:35 pm

    Another interesting one comes from physics where is sometimes called "ket", which is used in "braket notation.

  70. ohwilleke said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 9:41 pm

    " In English, lozenge refers either to what Unicode calls the square lozenge (⌑) "

    This symbol gets fairly heavy use in physics, particularly general relativity and quantum gravity and theoretical physics where it is used as a stand in for a particular set of mathematical symbols combined in a particular way that tends to occur repetitively in these equations, really more as a widely accepted shorthand abbreviation than as a true ideogram.

  71. ohwilleke said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 9:48 pm

    "One is in the grading of Listed Buildings, where the middle of the 3 grades is II* ("Two star"); the other is in the grading of GCE A-Levels, where the top grade of A has in recent years had to be differentiated into A and A* ("A star") because so many were achieving As."

    In population genetics, a star affixed to a haplogroup designation (i.e. a specific named combination of genes among a particular set of genes) when it is the "basal" version of the haplogroup that has only the minimum number of mutations necessary to qualify to be classified as such and no subsequent mutations, or when it the basal version with only additional mutations that do not qualify it for any other named haplogroup designation.

    Hence, if someone has all the mutations to qualify for haplogroup F but no other mutations, their haplogroup would be written F*.

    * Re the original post, I always grew up pronouncing it asterix and thinking it was spelled that way (in Southern Ohio). Star is a logical alternative since the aster- root means star in Latin.

  72. Chappers said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 10:03 pm

    @ohwilleke I'm not sure what you're referring to with that comment, but one of the more common running grievances among my colleagues in the Pure Mathematics department is how hopeless physicists (and by extension, applied mathematicians, and therefore probably much of the rest of the world) are at coming up with sensible, logical notation for things, instead of a confusing tangled mess. I still remember the horrors of indices as used in supersymmetry… ugh.

    As far as # goes, surely "#" is a "hash", whence "#wordorphrase" is a hashtag. There's some sort of use–mention problem here that people tend not to pick up: the operator # that sends a word or phrase to a corresponding "hash"tag, read as "hashtag:", and its output. Indeed, considering how beloved abbreviation is, it's perhaps surprising that so far "hashtag" hasn't lost the redundant "tag" part when read as a (not sure what the correct terminology is here: categorisation prefix? [Is it similar to "Re:" and "Fwd:" in email subjects?]).

  73. Bill Gregg said,

    December 19, 2015 @ 11:22 am

    "Just before posting, I saw on this forum that "asterisk" is also pronounced by some people as "asterik" (metathesis plus elision), also mentioned in the pronunciation note quoted above, although I don't think that I personally have ever heard it pronounced that way."

    In my world (nonacademic, white-collar office) "asterik" is probably the dominant pronunciation. I'd estimate it's what I hear 2/3 to 3/4 of the time.

  74. maidhc said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 2:58 am

    I heard another example today from Garrison Keillor: "excape".

  75. Graeme said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 6:52 am

    I've only heard it as 'star' when it denotes a quality – like a '*****' or five star hotel. Or 'A*' for 'A star' journal, notionally superior to A or B ranked journals.
    It's always 'asterisk' when it stands in for a footnoted comment.

    Although what is omitted can sometimes be understood – eg in cricket notation it has long been used to mean 'not out'. Eg '100* ' reads '100 (runs) not out'. Just as the dagger symbol means 'this player is wicket keeper'.

  76. Robert Coren said,

    December 20, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    I had a colleague many years ago who consistently said "tact" for "tack".

  77. January First-of-May said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 9:06 am

    I agree with languagehat on it being "little star" in Russian, but I wonder how no comment so far mentioned one of the symbol's most important modern meanings: multiplication sign.
    I'm personally thinking of it as a multiplication sign before anything else (though I know enough to use it as an "asterisk" in contexts that need one, such as in front of reconstructed words or ungrammatical sentences).

    Perhaps some modern online bloggers might even interpret the symbol as (one half of) an emphasis mark (fun unrelated fact: my current browser puts a red line under both "online" and "bloggers", but no other words in this paragraph, or indeed no words other than the nick in the previous one).

  78. Chappers said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 10:12 am

    @January First-of-May In programming, * is often multiplication (presumably because it's actually on the keyboard), but in mathematics, it's never used for ordinary multiplication: for that, the multiplication symbol × is used, or more commonly, a centred dot (or even a full stop) (another sort of star, ∗, is used for a different sort of product called convolution).

    As far as I know, the use of asterisks for *emphasis* stems from some early version of markdown for plaintext communication (which also includes _underlines_ and /italics/). Certainly I would be surprised if the early Internet hadn't invented a compact way of doing this in plaintext. But I doubt that a * by itself would be regarded as half of a **, any more than any apostrophe would be regarded as a closing quotation mark.

  79. Brett said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 10:19 am

    @Chappers: It took me a bit to figure out what ohwilleke was referring to: the wave operator that is often denoted by a square and pronounced "box."

  80. Robert Coren said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 11:05 am

    I strongly suspect that the use of * to indicate multiplication only arose when people started writing computer programs to do arithmetic, given that there was no way a computer could distinguish between the standard multiplication symbol (x) and the letter.

  81. Dick Margulis said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 11:29 am

    @Robert Coren: You have the history confused. Early computer programming was done using the binary-coded decimal character set (some variation between computer manufacturers, shown on the Wikipedia page The asterisk was available on all of them. The fact that people limited to a typewriter keyboard used a lowercase x to represent the multiplication sign doesn't mean that it was one. That symbol (×) didn't become accessible in computer character sets until ISO 8859 came along, although it was available in mathematical pi fonts—in foundry type, hot metal, phototype, and digital type—long before.

  82. julie lee said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

    @Ken Miner mentions "acsian", Old English or Anglo-Saxon for "to ask".

    My daughter, when she was three, said "ax" for "ask" and "meolk" for "milk". She is now a cell biologist. One day I said to her: "You know, when you were little you spoke Anglo-Saxon or ancient English. You said ax for ask, and meolc for milk, just like the Anglo-Saxons." Without missing a beat, she shot back: "Oh, that's what biologists describe as 'Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

  83. David Marjanović said,

    December 21, 2015 @ 2:28 pm

    On "exetera", languagehat is obviously right: /ks/ is a fairly common sequence in English, /ts/ is basically limited to the ends of plural nouns.

    I'm not sure what German automated voice systems call it actually, but Sternchen sounds plausible for that as well.

    Stern actually, for brevity and perhaps to sound less cutesy (our threshold for that is higher than in Russian or Polish, let alone Czech).

    Just as the dagger symbol means 'this player is wicket keeper'.

    In German it would mean he's dead: the "dagger" is a cross, and the player is given a Christian funeral in print. "Famous person is dead" headlines often consist of nothing but the name and this cross.

    This is why ichthyologists (in particular) use it to mean "extinct".

RSS feed for comments on this post