or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 11/7/10

   November 13th, 2010

Vonnegut's asteriskA patron walked up to the desk and placed a piece of scrap paper in front of me. On it was written:

...Just had an *awesome* dinner...

After I read it, the patron explained that a friend of hers had just posted that message to Twitter. She wanted to know if there was such a thing as an "air asterisk" - like "air quotes," but to add the emphasis of the asterisks instead of the sarcasm of the quotes.

Huh. I first searched the web for "air asterisk" and "air asterisk" "air quote" but only found a website where one of the comments asked the same question, but never answered it.

So I tried to be creative and search for "air star" "air quote", which led to a website describing how kids in London did air asterisks. That was funny, but we thought drawing out the six lines was too involved.

Just JackWe were talking during the search, and decided that five fingers + one arm = six lines, so just holding your hands up with fingers extended would be a good "air asterisk" - similar to the "Just Jack" move.

I next thought to search Urban Dictionary for "air asterisk," which referred to the term "airsterisk" but didn't explain how it was performed. So we searched the web again for "airsterisk" and this time found a YouTube video where they both demonstrate and explain it:

The video is from 2006, so they're right - it is catching on. - Except: they're using it for a footnote, but for our purposes we'd actually use both hands to add emphasis to the word *awesome.*

In the end, the patron actually seemed kind of pleased we couldn't find the exact thing anywhere online - kind of like she had come up with something entirely new. She thank me by saying,

*Thanks* for your help.

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7 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/7/10”

  1. Annie Johnson Says:

    Favourite RQotW so far!

  2. Jen Says:

    In my understanding of web parlance, asterisks are to emphasize, not be air quotes. Hopefully I haven’t been ticking people off!

  3. Diana Says:

    I have always used asterisks to emphasize. In fact, if you surround a word with asterisks in Google Talk, it automatically makes the word bold.

  4. Erin Says:

    I was going to say the same thing as Diana. It’s a word processing shortcut. That said – *air asterisks* is cracking me up.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jen @Diana @Erin Yeah, I’ve always read the asterisks as emphasis, and that’s what this patron was going for, too. It’s just that “air quotes” was the closest thing I could think of to search on, figuring that anyone talking about air asterisks would also mention air quotes, too. So, similar hand motion, but entirely different meaning. But only time will tell if I actually have enough courage to airsterisk in real life.

  6. Tori Says:

    In the early days of online chat, asterisks were used to show that the word should be read as though it were in bold. Asterisks were also used to denote actions. For example, sending *yawns* instead of “I’m tired.”

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