Did You Know…?

Mort's Ultimate Grawlix
The Lexicon of Comicana

Have you ever wondered what the symbols used instead of spelling out a swear word explicitly, as in “d*@#” or especially “@#$%&!” are named? The symbols are known as “grawlixes, ” or ”profanitype,” and American cartoonist Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey, etc.) is credited with coining the term “grawlix.”

Typographical substitutions for swear words have been around for a very long time, in an effort to evade censorship.

In 1980, Mort Walker—the creator of comic strips like Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois – published a charming book titled The Lexicon of Comicana. Barely 96 pages, mostly cartoons and white space, The Lexicon was Walker’s own silly attempt to classify the symbols used in comic strips around the world. But the book ended up doing far more than that.

To this day, it’s studied in art schools around the world, not just as a textbook but as a treatise explaining why the funnies matter.

Over time, people have %&*# come up with various @$#& handy ways to insert $(^& swearing, or at least the @+)^ recognition of ^%*& swearing, without setting off the $)+$ Censor Alarms.

One of the oldest and easiest #*%^ ways to do this is by $%&^ inserting random %&$#?@! symbols. This ()%$ method of &%&$ censorship has been seen in @*+^ newspaper comics from the #$%* beginning, making this practice Older Than Radio.

Walker just found a catchy and non-profane way to describe it.

Comic characters even talking about grawlix symbols have become a common funny-page gag-line, the cartoonist’s inside joke and commentary on censorship.