Rhetorical Device: Asterismos

The word asterismos comes from from the Greek for 'marking with stars' and unsurprisingly, has the same origin as the word asterisk (*).
Asterismos involves beginning a segment of speech with a seemingly unnecessary word or phrase. The prefix word/phrase effectively says "pay attention, here comes something important". It is usually followed by a punctuation mark that creates a pause and a moment of tension before the speaker launches into the main point.
This technique is particularly useful to politicians who frequently give long speeches that are densely packed with politics, policy and platitudes. They need a way to signal to their constituents and particularly to the press, that a soundbite is coming.


And God said, “Behold, I give you every plant that produces seeds upon the earth and every tree that has fruit with its seed inside of it: these shall be your food. Bible (New Catholic Bible), "Genesis 1:29"

Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.Bible (New Catholic Bible), "Luke 9:27"

Now, make no mistake. We will not permit the safety of our people or our environmental heritage to be jeopardized, but we are going to reaffirm that the economic prosperity of our people is a fundamental part of our environment.Ronald Reagan, "1980 Republican National Convention Acceptance Address" (17 July 1980)
WWS rhetorical device explainer card on asterismos

Make no mistake: The United States will continue to defend ourselves, our Allies, and our interests against attack, including terrorist threats, as we prepare to use force if any is necessary, but -- to defend our vital U.S. national interests, including against ongoing and imminent threats. Joe Biden, "Address to the 76th Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly" (21 September 2021)

Now -- Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued. And they must be defeated. Barack Obama, "2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address" (27 July 2004)

Let me be clear -- we must balance the budget. I proposed to Congress a balanced budget, but Congress refused to enact it. Congress has even refused to give me the line-item veto to help me achieve further deficit reduction. But we must balance this budget without resorting to their priorities, without their unwise cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, in education and the environment.Bill Clinton, "Address to the Nation on U.S. Government Shutdown" (14 November 1995)

Now, understand, this matters to people everywhere. One nuclear weapon exploded in one city -- be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be -- for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival. Barack Obama, "Speech at Hradcany Square in Prague, Czech Republic" (5 April 2009)

Our journey will not end here. We have spent five long years proving that we can live again. We believe that tomorrow will always be better than today. So America, hear this: The people of New Orleans are still standing; we are unbowed and we are unbroken. Mitch Landrieu, "Address at the Katrina 5 Commemoration & Determination Ceremony" (29 August 2010)

Hear me, now: I am not pro-abortion; I am pro-choice, strongly. I believe this difficult and painful decision should be left to the women of America. Bill Clinton, "Democratic Presidential Nomination Acceptance Address" (16 July 1992)

Further reading

  • Nordquist, Richard: "Asterismos", ThoughtCo Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Buckley School - Rhetorical device of the month: Asterismos Visit