An asterisk is the figure of a star (*) used as a reference mark, or to indicate omission. (From the Latin asteriscus, little star. Quid clarius asteriscis?)

An asterick, on the other hand, is nothing at all, but the word asterick is often used as a synonym for asterisk.

Why? Well, asterick is easier to pronounce. If you drop the "s" from asterisk, you get asterik. And most people will know that you mean asterisk when you say asterik, so intelligibility is not compromised to any significant degree. On the other hand, if you substitute the word "rik" for "risk", as in "he's taking a terrible rik", people will think you have a sock in your mouth.

My first encounter with asterick came 18 years ago during a conversation with a "systems analyst". At first I thought that asterick might be computer lingo for "asterisk". I soon discovered that it was not computer lingo at all, just weirdness. More troubling were the same fellow's references to "physical date". No, he wasn't talking about a recording format, e.g. CCYYMMDD in a binary integer, or unsigned packed decimal, or EBCDIC or ASCII characters. When he said "physical date" he really meant "fiscal date"! Yikes!

On 12/7/97, an AltaVista search for the word "asterisk" yielded 48,022 pages, distributed by domain as shown in the table to the right. A search for "asterick" yielded 1,172 pages. If publishers in each domain were equally likely to substitute "asterick" when they meant "asterisk", we would expect the percentage of asterisk and asterick usage to be the same for each domain. But it is not. By dividing the "asterick" percentage by the asterisk percentage, we compute an Asterick Usage Index. The chart shows clearly that "asterick" is an American vice.

Five-star asterick sites are:

But why should I bother listing the sites? If you want, just click here to search AltaVista for ASTERICK SITES.

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