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

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

  • It means 'read the fine print'.
    – Kris
    Oct 23, 2012 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, 2012 at 11:48
  • 1
    @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. Oct 23, 2012 at 12:27

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 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, 2012 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. Oct 23, 2012 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, 2012 at 11:37
  • 1
    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, 2012 at 13:53
  • I think Matt E 3nneH's "Astersks denote footnote" applies as used in Washington Post's (May 25, 2017) article: Those two scenarios come with asterisks. Republicans would undoubtedly attribute a Quist victory to Gianforte’s confrontation and call it a fluke produced by flawed candidate recruitment. A loss would leave Democrats to explain why, after elections in Kansas, in Georgia, in Nebraska and in Montana, they still haven’t put a clear win on the board. May 26, 2017 at 2:53

I would read it as

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


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.

  • I don't get that insinuation. It could simply mean that Romney's take on clean energy has a caveat.
    – J.R.
    Oct 23, 2012 at 20:55

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