aster

Sometimes—though I’ve never done even a rough analysis to see what percent of our vocabulary falls into this category—Spanish and English have a word that’s spelled the same and means the same thing. One such word is aster, which designates a daisy-type flower* that is prominent in the autumn in northern latitudes. Said flower reminded the ancients of a star, and in fact Spanish and English borrowed aster from Latin, which had taken it from Greek, where it meant ‘star.’ Descendants of the ‘star’ word are recognizable in many Indo-European languages, including those of the Germanic branch: German has Stern (which some people are born with as a family name) and English, of course, has star.

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* You can see a picture of one type of aster on my other site, but inserting this footnote into today’s post is a ploy to let me use an asterisco/asterisk, a diminutive clearly based on Greek aster. An asterisk is a symbol that has the form of a stylized little star. Some (nay, many) English speakers mangle the pronunciation and even the spelling of the word to asterick. When I did a search for asterick on Google I kept being asked if I meant asterisk, but when I persisted I got over seven million hits for asterick. Spanish speakers don’t seem to have a similar problem with asterisco.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 13:43:27

    Many memorials to war veterans – particularly those who served in Air Forces and such – commonly include the phrase Per aspera ad astra. I’ve seen it three or four times in the past couple of days, in postings related to the Pearl Harbor anniversary.

    Curious, now – is it possible the asterisk/asterick pairing is related to the relatively common substitution of “aks” for “ask”? Are both examples of metathesis?

    Reply

    • Steve Schwartzman
      Dec 07, 2011 @ 14:35:02

      The Romans were playing with the similar sounds of the words aspera and astra, and here we are enjoying the pun a couple of thousand years later.

      Like you, I wondered whether asterick arose as a shortening of astericks, which would have been a metathesis of the standard form asterisk; that would have followed the pattern of ask —> aks. I don’t know the history of asterick, and it’s also plausible that it could have arisen via a simplification of the consonant cluster at the end, especially as there’s already an s earlier in the word (two of them being one too many for some people).

      I thought about mentioning the popular French cartoon character Astérix le Gaulois, but I decided not to complicate things in a column devoted to Spanish and English.

      Reply

  2. whilldtkwriter
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 07:15:30

    The word is asterisk, pronounced and spelled with a 2nd “s”. It’s grating to hear people pronounce it as AS-ter-ik. In googling “asterisk vs. asterick”, hits come up regarding “Asterix” and “Asterick PBX”, For a quick, explanation of asterisk vs. asterix, visit http://themodernword.blogspot.com/2008/03/asterixasterisk.html.

    Reply

  3. Steve Schwartzman
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 07:46:25

    Thanks for the link. It looks familiar, so I might have turned it up when I was doing research in December of 2011 for the common misspellings of asterisk. The mispronunciation has bothered me, too, for a long time, but I’m afraid it’s here to stay.

    Reply

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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