Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Pain in the asterisk

 Source (This is part of a campaign for athletes to stop using steroids so they wouldn't end up with an asterisk next to their name denoting that their awards had been stripped.)

Excuse my little grammar pun, but asterisks are one of those little punctuation marks that no one seems to use correctly -- especially in advertising.

Do you ever get one of those horrible ads (slapped together by a company who knows nothing about design) in the mail with a too-good-to-be-true price and a little asterisk next to it? And then you scroll to the bottom, expecting an explanation or a caveat and there's nothing there? You're left wondering what they forgot to tell you (and what else they're hiding).

OK, maybe you don't get quite as irritated as I do when you see unexplained asterisks. I realize I am one of the few people who constantly thinks about grammar and ways to improve my own writing. However, I thought I'd include a few facts about asterisks for those who are curious.
  • The word asterisk is often mispronounced, but it should be pronounced just the way it looks (as-ter-isk). Which is easier said than done, since this word is kind of a tongue twister.
  • Asterisks are generally used to signify to the reader that more information will follow in the footnotes (if it's an article or book) or simply at the bottom of the text (if it's a poster). If you use an asterisk in your writing, make sure you follow up with a phrase at the bottom that includes the relevant information you didn't have room for above. Otherwise, you leave readers hanging.
  • Asterisks are the first symbol you should use if you have multiple footnotes to include. The next symbols to use (in order) are the dagger, double dagger, section mark (double s), parallels (||) and number sign. If you read the Bible, you may notice daggers and double daggers in the footnotes. That's why! Check out this Wikipedia article about dagger symbols to see a list of different typography symbols.
This Grammar Girl article (and a bunch of ugly ads lately) inspired this post, so be sure to check out what she has to say.

How do you use asterisks? Have you noticed any dangling ones lately?

1 comment:

  1. It drives me crazy when I see nothing. Then why put one there? Argh!!!!


Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.