Obelisk, Obelus, Dagger

A minor use of this Obelisk symbol is in documentation related to the old English game of cricket. The game's wicket is a set of stumps stabbed into the ground like daggers. The term 'wicket' is derived from 'wicket gate' (see Pilgrim's Progress), which in turn originates from the same source as 'Wicca'.

And that's about as close as this page gets to associating this symbol with witchcraft.

Instead, we show how the symbol is used as a typographical mark, particularly in Christian liturgical text.

Additional information kindly provided by
Mr Elias Geoffroy
Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Obelisk, Obelus, Dagger


The obelisk from Luxor in the Place de la Concorde in Paris
© 2005 David Monniaux

'Obelisk' usually refers to a stone monolith, perhaps having a rectangular cross section tapering towards a pyramidal top. Famous ones include the 3,300-year-old 250-ton lump shown on the right, inscribed with various ancient hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. The word 'obelisk' comes from the Greek word for 'pointed pillar' and 'needle'.

Obelisk (or Obelus) is also from the Greek word for 'a roasting spit', which inspired the naming of a typographical mark that looks a bit like an implement suitable for jabbing into a lump of meat for holding over the flames. Such a skewer with two handles is known as a Diesis or 'double obelisk'.

The single cross-bar also mimics a dagger's quillon (crossguard), hence the alternative name for the single-armed obelisk; Dagger. When used as a reference marker in text, it always points downwards.

The glyph, with one or two cross-bars, may be written or printed as an alternative to the asterisk and is seen in ancient manuscripts.

Obelisk  =  quaver rest
quaver rest

Display screen asterisk  =  crotchet rest
crotchet rest

One example is to indicate where those chanting a Psalm should briefly pause (like the quaver 'rest' used in music notation). The asterisk is used to mark the end of more major phrase (like the crotchet 'rest' used in music).

In reciting Psalms, commas and semicolons are grammatical punctuation and not intended to interrupt speech flow. A breath mark is indicated by an obelisk or an asterisk. Consequently you might see both the comma and the obelisk together.

Parátum cor ejus speráre in Dómino, † confirmátum est cor ejus * non commovébitur donec despíciat inimicos suos.

Ps. 111:7

See for more examples.

The symbol is used in both liturgical and non-liturgical text to refer to a footnote. Conventionally, an asterisk is used for the first footnote of a page or chapter, the single-armed obelisk (dagger) for a second footnote, and a double-armed obelisk (diesis) for a third. Other symbols might be used for further footnotes, or a numbering system as seen on pages of this website.

Other (non-liturgical) uses include:

  • text positioned immediately before or immediately after the name of a deceased person or the date of their death. Like a euphemism, this circumvents having to use the word "died" and instead, uses a symbol representing everlasting life.
  • ...various indicators in scientific literature: biology, chemistry and physics
  • ...a mathematical operator, called 'obelisk' or 'dagger'. (But not 'obelus'. In mathematics 'obelus' usually refers to the division symbol ÷)
  • ...various indicators in game literature:
    • Chess; suffixed to the move resulting in a check
    • Cricket; appended to the wicket keeper's name on a team listing. Wisden Cricketers' Almanack uses the same symbol for a player who deputised for an appointed captain (See also the BBC's story of Amir Hussain Lone, the most remarkable cricket captain!)

The style of the obelisk and diesis varies according to the font. Many are similar but have subtle differences (pattée, buds, aiguisé and so on):

Click any image to enlarge

Arial - Click to enlarge
Arial & Dotum
Batang - Click to enlarge
Book Antiqua - Click to enlarge
Book Antiqua
Bookman Old Style - Click to enlarge
Bookman Old Style
Calibri - Click to enlarge
Cambria - Click to enlarge
Candara - Click to enlarge
Century - Click to enlarge
Century Gothic - Click to enlarge
Century Gothic
Comic Sans - Click to enlarge
Comic Sans
Consolas - Click to enlarge
Constantia - Click to enlarge
Corbel - Click to enlarge
Courier New - Click to enlarge
Courier New
DejaVu Serif - Click to enlarge
DejaVu Serif
Estrangelo Edessa - Click to enlarge
Estrangelo Edessa
Franklin Gothic Medium - Click to enlarge
Franklin Gothic Medium
Garamond - Click to enlarge
Georgia - Click to enlarge
Gulim - Click to enlarge
Gulim, Gungsuh & Kartika
Impact - Click to enlarge
Latha - Click to enlarge
Lucida Console - Click to enlarge
Lucida Console
Mangal - Click to enlarge
MingLiU - Click to enlarge
MS UI Gothic - Click to enlarge
MS UI Gothic
Myriad Web - Click to enlarge
Myriad Web
NSimSun - Click to enlarge
OCRB - Click to enlarge
Palatino Linotype - Click to enlarge
Palatino Linotype
Script MT Bold - Click to enlarge
Script MT Bold
Sylfaen - Click to enlarge
Times New Roman - Click to enlarge
Times New Roman
Trebuchet MS - Click to enlarge
Trebuchet MS
DejaVu Sans - Click to enlarge
DejaVu Sans (Haven't we experienced this somewhere before?)

Click any image to enlarge

See also Asterisk, Sword Cross and Cross of Lorraine


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