A brief history of the asterisk

This is the sort of article I find deeply interesting, if a little brief. I will probably buy this damn book now. Friggers really know how to draw you in. But probably any one of the many eccentric typographical symbols in this book could have its own book, especially the asterisk. And my fascination is not just because the asterisk is the primary imagery on my own new book cover, but because I like to speculate about all the eyes this symbol has passed under over the years.

In the medieval period the asterisk continued to be employed in the copying of Bibles to flag up text from other sources. It also was increasingly used as a signe de renvoi (sign of return)—a graphic symbol which indicates where a correction or insertion should be made, with a corresponding mark in the margin with the correct text inserted. The asterisk is also found in medieval texts as a sign of omission. The use of the asterisk by scribes copying the Bible continued with the advent of the printing press; early printed Bibles, such as Robert Estienne’s 1532 Latin Bible, make use of an asterisk. Scribes did not always use the modern asterisk shape, some instead adopting a hooked cross with dots between each arm. However, when the asterisk was cut into type it was rendered as the five- or six-pointed star, and this is the form that has largely endured.

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