Monday, 9 February 2015

asterisk or asterix?

The origins of this little star-shaped mark lie in the Greek word asteriskos, the diminutive form of aster ‘star’ (think of asteroid and astronaut), and so it literally means ‘little star’.  Just as the verb ask is pronounced axe in some American dialects, so the final “sk” is frequently pronounced “ks”, leading to the corresponding misspelling of this word as if it were the cartoon character Asterix the Gaul.  Use of this erroneous spelling can produce some unusual images, such as that conjured up by The Guardian’s report on the surprising relegation of Barcelona footballing legend Lionel Messi to the bench for an important match: ‘When the official list was released, Messi’s name, like that of Adriano and Pedro, was followed by an asterix, denoting a player who had not yet been given the all-clear by medical staff’.  Perhaps the Barcelona manager decided that not even Lionel Messi was as useful as a Gaulish warrior pumped full of magic potion, although I suspect that Asterix would have fallen foul of UEFA’s doping laws.  

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