Prior to the nineteenth century, individuals who excluded meat from their diet were often referred to as "Pythagoreans." This is because the famous Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, had outlined a dietary system that was meatless.
On September 30, 1847 at the inaugural meeting of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, at Northwood Villa in Kent, England, the term "vegetarian" was officially used by Joseph Brotherton. The root, being the Latin word vegetus, means sound, lively, fresh, or whole. The term is not meant to imply that one lives on vegetables alone, without the use of grains, legumes, fruit, et cetera. Originally, this term was meant to indicate a lack of meat, eggs, and dairy products in the diet. But, like Pythagoras, many vegetarians do not eat eggs.
A man, named Donald Watson, coined the term "vegan" in the 1940s. The American and United Kingdom Vegan Societies both agree that it is pronounced "vee gun." However, some individuals persist in saying "vay gun" or "veh jan."
Today, many vegetarians communicate via the Internet. This form of communication is practically always written, and thus, needs not be pronounced. Also, typing efficiency is important for quick communication. Given these factors, it is no surprise that the term "veg*n" has arisen. It is a written word which can stand for "vegan" or "vegetarian." The asterix acts as a "wildcard," and represents "a" or "etaria" respectively.