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The asterisk itself has been around as a symbol since literally (pun intended) before the earliest writing systems. Among its many uses, in some user interfaces it denotes unsaved changes to a file or item.

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What was the first use of the asterisk to denote unsaved changes in a computer interface? What inspired this use - was it a unique invention, or modeled after some prior use of the asterisk - in written text or otherwise - to denote changes to something?

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    I can't give a date, but Emacs has used an asterisk in its mode-line for this purpose for longer than I've been using it (early 1990s) and it might be profitable to try to track down which version introduced that and whether it was inspired by something earlier. Commented Apr 23 at 14:58
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    I just checked the source code for Gosling Emacs (1980/1981) and it uses '*' to indicate a modified buffer. Here is some lisp code (from a different lisp emacs?) and C code Commented Apr 23 at 15:16
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    A possible source of inspiration could have been "In colloquial usage, an asterisk attached to a sporting record indicates that it is somehow tainted," as stated here
    – Leo B.
    Commented Apr 23 at 16:19
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    In linguistics, an asterisk attached to a translated word or phrase means that it is unattested and awaiting further research. Commented Apr 24 at 3:11
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    Apple starting using a bullet character in the titlebar name to show unsaved edits. It's technically not an asterisk, but similar in appearance. The practice is not mentioned in the 1985, 1986, or 1992 versions of Inside Macinstosh: User Interface Guidelines. That doesn't necessarily mean that it wasn't used yet, just that Apple hadn't adopted it yet as a UI rule.
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Apr 25 at 3:59

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