I've just come across some sentences with the word asterisk used in a way I don't understand. None of the dictionary definitions or the list of usages in Wiki were applicable, and I couldn't find anything here to help me, either. Here are the sentences:

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard...to go forward with the nomination only if he can prevail with no asterisks. But the last thing the court needs right now is asterisks.

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    Asterisk here is a symbol for (negative) reservation. – michael.hor257k Sep 30 '18 at 17:21
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    asterisks are often used in superscript to indicate that there is some “fine print” with restrictions. – Jim Sep 30 '18 at 17:22
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    @JerryA.Trik Because they are making that metaphor. He should go forward only if there are no caveats- no fine print. – Jim Sep 30 '18 at 17:32
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    @JerryA.Trik Would you find it easier to understand if the author used footnote instead? -- P.S. I suggest you use the first sentence that contains the word: "I would advise him [Kavanaugh] against letting Senate Republicans ram his nomination through in a fashion that will forever attach an asterisk to his service on the Supreme Court." – michael.hor257k Sep 30 '18 at 17:40
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    When I look in Wikipedia I find: “The asterisk is used to call out a footnote, [ ... ] Less commonly, multiple asterisks are used to denote different footnotes on a page (i.e., *, **, ***). [ ... ] Other characters are also used for this purpose, including †, ‡, superscript numbers (as in Wikipedia), etc. In marketing and advertising, asterisks or other symbols are used to refer readers discreetly to terms or conditions for a certain statement, the "small print". – Jim Sep 30 '18 at 17:40

As Hot Licks points out, the asterisk is commonly used to denote a footnote.

The use was extended colloquially to denote that something took place under unusual circumstances. Its use in this manner dates from 1961, when American baseball player Roger Maris exceeded the record for number of home runs hit in a single season. The record had previously been held by Babe Ruth. Maris's record was noted with an asterisk because it was accomplished under different circumstances -- the season had been extended by eight games.

As described in the article "Roger Maris: Still 61* after all these years" in NewsDay:

After 55 years, The Asterisk That Never Existed continues to haunt the legend and family of Roger Maris, the first player to hit more home runs than Babe Ruth in a single season.

In 1961, the American League expanded its schedule from 154 games to the current 162. As Roger Maris closed in on Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60, commisioner Ford Frick declared that Ruth’s record would stand if not broken by the Yankees’ 154th game and should Maris break the mark or tie Ruth after that, the records would be treated separately.

That differentiation commonly became known as The Asterisk.

In the case of the quote in the OP, they want a nomination with a clean sheet, with no reason for anyone to stand up and declare that the nominee obtained his position by unfair means.

  • "The use was extended colloquially to denote that something took place under unusual circumstances." This I didn't know, inspite of my being a voracious reader. – Jerry A. Trik Sep 30 '18 at 19:23

The * character (asterisk) is often used to link to a "footnote" or something similar. In a set of specifications such footnotes are often used to state exceptions to what is stated in the main text (ie, "fine print"). Usually such footnotes are inconsequential, but they can be used to conceal (in plain sight) nasty little details the writer wished to NOT draw attention to.


Similar question here in 2012. Some say it's from the "steroid era" of US baseball. "...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." Comment here: Meaning of “true, with an asterisk” (question about the meaning of "Romney's attack on clean energy: true, with an asterisk".)

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