Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

According to the @Mahnax's answer to this question, the footnotes' sequence symbols is the following (Chicago Manual of Style Online):

    * (asterisk; but do not use if p values occur in the table; see 3.78)
    † (dagger)
    ‡ (double dagger)
    § (section mark)
    || (parallels)
    # (number sign, or pound)

What really had been the reasons which led to this order? Can this order depend to the typewriters invented 50 or 100 years ago, which, probabily, had their button in that sequence?

share|improve this question
It wouldn't be related to typewriter key positions, since they'd only be involved in the typesetting process rarely, if at all. –  FumbleFingers Mar 28 '12 at 13:50
I think these are just rarely-used symbols that printers generally had lying around. After *, †, ‡, I am not sure the above sequence is really universal. Wikipedia says the paragraph mark (¶) is also used for footnotes. –  Peter Shor Mar 28 '12 at 15:12
Have you seen this Wikipedia entry: Dagger (typography)? –  JLG Mar 28 '12 at 16:38
@FeralOink I added a bug report on the Stack Exchange Meta, we'll see what comes of it. In the meanwhile, the links will work as long as they don't end in a closing bracket, for example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dagger_(typography)#History –  Hannele Mar 28 '12 at 18:42
A fine question. Members of WritersSE should also benefit from this. –  Kris Mar 29 '12 at 9:38
show 1 more comment

1 Answer

up vote 20 down vote accepted

This Wikipedia article on the dagger (archived by Swarthmore College Computer Society) claims:


The symbol was first used in liturgical books of the Roman Catholic Church, marking a minor intermediate pause in the chanting of Psalm verses (the major intermediate pause was marked with an asterisk) or the point at which the chanting of the Psalm was taken up after an introductory antiphon whose words were identical to the opening words of the Psalm.


The dagger is usually used to indicate a footnote, in the same way an asterisk is. However, the dagger is only used for a second footnote when an asterisk is already used. A third footnote employs the double dagger. Additional footnotes are somewhat inconsistent and represented by a variety of symbols, e.g., parallels (||) and the pilcrow (¶), some of which were nonexistent in early modern typography. Partly because of this, superscript numerals have increasingly been used in modern literature in the place of these symbols, especially when several footnotes are required. Some texts use asterisks and daggers alongside superscripts, using the former for per-page footnotes and the latter for endnotes.

Robert Bringhurst's 2005 The Elements of Typographic Style (version 3.1) (nicknamed Bringhurst's Bible by typographers) says the traditional order of symbols is *, †, ‡, §, ‖, ¶ and goes on to say:

“But beyond the ... double dagger, this order is not familiar to most readers, and never was.”

The order doesn't come from typewriters, which were invented in 1868, because they werewere used as footnotes before this. Here's an example from a 1792 magazine:

play They gasp on shewing banks our easy prey While birds unwiug d hop carelels o er liis ground And the plump mouse incessant trots around Perhaps the only one remaining t y his elegant pen which he would not have chosen to conceal frosn the publick The idea suggested by disliking the use of the Heathen Mythology in Dr Jortjn's Crimalkin Epitaph To thee so firm my gratitude sliall be That Tray hall yield in githfuluessto me Sagittarius The affection of cats for marum and valerian is well known they will beat the stems down mat them with their feet and then roll upon them f Charon has orders to deprive all cats ol their claws Whence conies that saying in hopeless case he has as much chance as 4 at in Hell without claws f

And the asterisk, dagger, double-dagger, section mark:

Our limits will only permit us to gratify our readers with some detached passages which will convey a perfect idea ef this dreadful fever but in respect to its treatment we should do injustice to our author to attempt an abridgement ef his doctrine It has made a complete revolution in the therapeutics of fever in Whose dentil March 7 we are sorry to ccoidintliepresentmontb sObituaiy Edi i ssepe per femora pulsus celer plerumqne larrus et Lib de Vict Kat niAlorb Acut k Lib de Astectiouibus De C uiso Lib 2 Cap 4 de Cauf k Sign Acut Morb Comment 4 in Lib de Vict Ral in Moib Acut Cum rigore non irruit CausuS neque rigor exacerbationes præcedit Ami Tetr 2 Serm 1 C 79

But they also used numbered footnotes, especially when there were many footnotes, such as these nine:

Yes own Chi 1st more than once has by an ass hoi ne ID The King of Prutlia ft Dent xxviii 4 MM cxxvii 3 1 Gen w 7 t a Oen ii 2t tu 1 Psal cxxviii 4 1 K ngs x xii to Gen ii 18 fmv xviii 1 Psal xvi 11 Fiince Virgin hni fi n na nn a a1 na o ntna naita

Here's Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine from 1819 with six footnotes; asterisk, dagger, double-dagger, section mark, parallels and pilcrow:

Come tell me says Rosa as kissing and kissed &c and Sweet Fanny of Tim mol with many other equally edifying little pieces f Scotice for I do not exactly know what but it signifies something pleasant comfortable knowing snug or the like X Peter to wit Vulgariter for grandmother not that I mean to assert that Lady M is a grandmother but to insinuate that as she is old enough to be one she has a fair claim to the title Rivers on the banks of which certain Universities much indebted to the learned jurisconsult mentioned in the text for his kind attention to their interests are seated 5f We shall ride roughshod over Carlton House Speech of all the talents through the mouth piece of Lord on hearing of the assassination of Mr PcrcrvaL

The asterisk is used before a dagger to denote birth and death dates. Typographers Hoefler & Frere-Jones say:

Both characters have functions in genealogy and other life sciences, where the asterisk indicates the year of birth (*1499), and the dagger the year of death (†1561). There are standard fourth-, fifth- and sixth-order reference marks, too: they are the section mark (§), parallels (||), and number sign (#), after which the cycle repeats with doubles, triples, and so on: *, †, ‡, §, ||, #, **, ††, ‡‡, §§, ||||, ###, ***, †††, ‡‡‡, etc. Beyond three, numbered footnotes are always preferable, even if you are David Foster Wallace.

The Sweet Sound of Punctuation by Yves Peters says of the dagger:

Because its shape is reminiscent of a Christian cross, in predominantly Christian regions the mark may also appear before or after the name of a deceased person, or the date of death. Therefore, it's not used as a footnote mark next to the name of a living person.

It also says another name for dagger is obelisk. So: asterisk and obelisk => Asterix and Obelix!

share|improve this answer
Awesome! I think it is very intersting the use of asterisk and dagger in genealogy and life sciences. I do not never notice this use. –  user19148 Mar 28 '12 at 21:47
This says the dagger is "not used as a footnote mark next to the name of a living person". It also says another name for dagger is obelisk. So: asterisk and obelisk => Asterix and Obelix! –  Hugo Mar 28 '12 at 22:07
Ha ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! –  user19148 Mar 28 '12 at 22:10
Great answer. Members of WritersSE should also benefit from this. –  Kris Mar 29 '12 at 9:39
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.