For example, when some long prose passage ends, this appears:

* * *

Then some new prose passage begins. The three asterisks dividing the two prose sections are understood to divide the two sections into non-continuous temporal spaces.

I am interested in knowing if there is a specific name to describe symbolic or graphical markings that are meant to suggest temporal discontinuity.

  • Are you asking specifically about three-asterisk breaks, or the more general class of breaks that also includes short lines, single asterisks, and other graphic symbols? – Monica Cellio Sep 1 '11 at 21:54
  • @Monica: edited question to clarify object of my inquiry – g33kz0r Sep 1 '11 at 21:58
  • +1 This is something I have wondered somewhere in the back of my mind. – Daniel Sep 1 '11 at 22:01
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/26385/… – z7sg Ѫ Sep 2 '11 at 11:00

It seems that these are called "section breaks" (sometimes "scene breaks"):

Sections are visually separated from each other with a section break, typically consisting of extra space between the sections. They are a concern in the process of typography and pagination, where it may be desirable to have a page break follow a section break for the sake of aesthetics or readability. In fiction, sections often represent scenes, and accordingly the space separating them is sometimes also called a scene break.

enter image description here

The bottom left of the image shows a section break. A section break doesn't necessarily need to be only three asterisks, although that is the most common. In this blog, it shows that the section breaks could be hash signs as well.

Alternatively, it could be an "asterism" :

In typography, an asterism, from the Greek astēr ('star'),1 is a rarely used, and "nearly obsolete",2 symbol consisting of three asterisks placed in a triangle (⁂). It is used to, "indicate minor breaks in text,

Later on the text from the link, it seems that an asterism is usually written like " * * *" :

Often, this symbol is replaced with three, sometimes more, consecutive asterisks or dots.

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  • Hah, it's really funny that you linked to a wikipedia page including LaTeX code, b/c my reason for asking this question in the first place was that I was in the middle of writing a business letter, and I wanted to find the LaTeX code for asterism or whatever it turns out to be called. – g33kz0r Sep 1 '11 at 22:02
  • +1 @Thursagen I'm leaning toward Scene Break. Thanks for the blog link, very interesting stuff. I'll leave this up for a bit to see if anything else pops up. – g33kz0r Sep 1 '11 at 22:06
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    I've also seen scene breaks marked by more complicated typographical elements; the name for these might be fleurons (although it seems they're more often just called "ornaments.") – Peter Shor Sep 2 '11 at 3:15
  • @Peter Shor yes, by all means, I have seen things other than asterisks as well. Good point. – g33kz0r Sep 2 '11 at 15:59
  • This answer is wrong. It even misquotes the Wikipedia article. The correct quote is: "Often, this symbol is replaced with three consecutive asterisks (called a dinkus) ..." The correct answer is the one by Cedric Eveleigh: three asterisks in a row are called a "dinkus". – user32638 May 23 '16 at 17:14

I have heard that construct (a line of asterisks meant to suggest a temporal or logical disconnect) described as a "zareba," back in my days as a typesetter, but I am unable to find a reference for that usage, even in the venerable OED -- it may have been local to SF Bay typesetters, or just used by typesetters in general.

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  • 3
    +1 for the interesting answer. According to the OED, a zareba (or zariba) can refer either to "a pen or enclosure for cattle" or (in the Soudan region) to "a fence or inclosure usually constructed of thorn bushes for defence against the attacks of enemies or wild beasts." A company named Zareba Systems, in business since the 1940s, claims to be the largest maker of electric fence systems in North America. So it may be that a typesetter at some point equated the line of asterisks under discussion here with the thorny fence line of a zareba. – Sven Yargs Jun 8 '15 at 2:14

In typography, an asterism, from the Greek astēr ('star'),1 is a rarely used, and "nearly obsolete",2 symbol consisting of three asterisks placed in a triangle (⁂). It is used to, "indicate minor breaks in text.

An even more ancient name is MUL -- from the cuneiform (oldest writing). In Babylonian language 'istari' meant god or goddess, though it could also mean star, heaven or sun/planet. The asterisk and the use of three as a triangle are all original to that cuneiform writing system as a pre-determinative sign indicating stars and the names of constellations. The single 'asterisk' often denoted the proper names of gods and goddesses of Mesopotamian tradition. ("Secrets of Sumerian Language" -Joshua Free)

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I don't have the reputation to comment on @Alexa's post connecting Wodehouse and "zareba", but I tracked down an example of Wodehouse's usage in this context. In his story "Something to Worry About", he writes (emphasis mine):

The dramatist brings down the curtain on such speeches. The novelist blocks his reader's path with a zareba of stars. But in life there are no curtains, no stars, nothing final and definite—only ragged pauses and discomfort. There was such a pause now.

(Available on Project Gutenberg.)

It looks like Wodehouse liked to use "zareba" in a variety of contexts describing metaphorical enclosures or fortifications, not just referring to a section break, e.g., "Vladimir Brusiloff had permitted his face to become almost entirely concealed behind a dense zareba of hair", "Mr. Benham’s eyes opened behind their zareba of glass.". Based on this, certainly seems plausible Wodehouse was the origin of the term in a typesetting context!

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According to wikipedia, *** used as a section break is called a dinkus.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/***

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    The Asterism page gives the source for that label as a book: Lundmark, Torbjorn Quirky Qwerty: A Biography of the Keyboard (2002) – curiousdannii Jan 4 '16 at 5:00

I've been looking all over for the answer to this. Although this usually refers to a decorative line, the generic term for a graphic that splits up a page is called an ornamental rule. Most people call the space between a scene break. Some of the other people here seem to have the specific name for * * * I hope you found what you are looking for.

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The term "zareba" is familiar to me as a description of the line of three asterisks used in modern print to signify a break of some kind. I think I learned the word in the writing of P. G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse (1881-1975) was a British comic writer. He wrote in several media, including as a magazine columnist, and I think he referred to the line of asterisks with ironic consciousness within a story or two.

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    Winnie Kelly's answer above also mentions zareba. If you can remember where in Wodehouse you saw his mention of the term, please add it to your answer! – Sven Yargs Feb 1 '16 at 4:39

All of this is wonderfully arcane. But I am on deadline and my editor has combined scenes between which I had placed three asterisks denoting a small lapse of time or a change of POV or even to allow a dramatic moment to sink in. I have left the asterisks between obvious scene breaks--where the change wasn't big enough for a new chapter. Are there rules covering these differences in usage? Or do I stand alone in my battle for clarity?

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    Is this the answer to the question asked by g33kz0r. I am interested in knowing if there is a specific name to describe symbolic or graphical markings that are meant to suggest temporal discontinuity. Or is this a related question? What research did you do before asking? – Mari-Lou A Mar 6 '18 at 15:17

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