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.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

How would one explain the following headline news in plain English?

Romney's attack on clean energy: true, with an asterisk

share|improve this question
It means 'read the fine print'. – Kris Oct 23 '12 at 11:29
It comes from baseball's steroid era. There's even a book by David Ezra, Asterisk: Home Runs, Steroids, and the Rush to Judgment. Players who used steroids might be listed in the record books, but they put an * by their name to indicate that they used performance-enhancing drugs. The implication being, they cheated. – JLG Oct 23 '12 at 11:48
@JLG It's baseball, true, but the original was Maris' home breaking Ruth's home run record in 1961 and the (in large part mean-spirited) call to acknowledge that his season had four more games than Ruth's. – StoneyB Oct 23 '12 at 12:27

Asterisks are used in text to denote footnotes*. So the headline wants to convey that what Romney said against "clean energy" is true, but there is some footnote or exception that the writer wants to bring to your attention.

In my opinion it's not a very good phrase. It would be better to say "with an exception".

*Like this. A footnote is usually used to explain a point that is tangential to the main point, or an exception to a rule. It is done this way so as not to break the flow of the main body of text.

share|improve this answer
Thanks. But it seems like "with an exception" will make it sounds very limited, as in "one exception", while asterisk could be a little more infinite? – stonebird Oct 23 '12 at 11:27
@stonebird that is true. But I feel the writer could choose "with exceptions", if there is more than one, or "to a point" or as Nir Levy says. "With an asterisk" is, IMO, a clumsy phrase, even for a headline. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 23 '12 at 11:33
By the way, the "footnote" may be that (1) Rommeny's attack misses some other points; or (2) Rommney is the one responsible for the problems he suggests; or (3) Despite his attack he will act the same when elected. – Nir Levy Oct 23 '12 at 11:37
Well, the writer is presumably trying to be a little clever or poetic. I haven't read the article so I can't speak to the overall writing style. – Jay Oct 23 '12 at 13:53

I would read it as

Romney's attack on clean energy is technically true, but is not the full story

share|improve this answer

The asterisk is used in legal or official literature to indicate further explanation below. In this context it's sarcastically indicating small print, insinuating that even a simple promise by Romney is not worth truth. Just like the fine-print on product disclosures, insurance papers etc.

share|improve this answer
I don't get that insinuation. It could simply mean that Romney's take on clean energy has a caveat. – J.R. Oct 23 '12 at 20:55

Your Answer


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

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.