See that? I just cursed in a headline in a family newspaper!
And there’s nothing those pesky censors can do about it because characters in the comic strips have been doing the same for years.
You’ve undoubtedly seen “@#$%&!” used in place of actual curse words in comic strips of which the use would be unseemly for a comic strip personality.
The word balloon or bubble above a character who has just stubbed their toe, for example, would shock most readers if actual curse words filled that space.
Modern, adult comics may be an exception but imagine Sgt. Snorkel’s word bubble spelling out actual profanities while yelling at Beetle Bailey in your Sunday funnies! Mom would have some explaining to do!
Enter then, the “grawlix,” the official name for the series of symbols representing cuss words in comic strips.
“Grawlix” was coined by legendary comic artist Mort Walker, best known for the comic strip “Beetle Bailey” and also “Hi and Lois” with partner Dik Browne.
What started as a spoof article for the National Cartoonists Society magazine, Walker parlayed his terminologies of cartoonist’s tricks into a book titled, “Let’s Get Down to Grawlixes” in 1964. In this book, he made up names for all the effects cartoonists use to emote various actions and behaviors of the characters.
Terms like, “Emanata” are lines drawn around the character’s head to indicate shock or surprise. “Grawlixes” are those typographical symbols that stand in for profanities. “Agitrons” are wiggly lines around a character to indicate shaking. “Plewds” are sweat drops that convey worry. “Squeans” are tiny starbursts or circles that represent intoxication or dizziness, and “solrads” are lines that radiate from a light bulb or the sun to indicate luminosity.
After his book was published, Walker tells of how he went to a bookstore and searched for his book in the humor section only to find it in the technical section under “Art Instruction.”
While thinking he was writing a humor book of made-up, funny terms, the comic world was adopting them as official names since no terms had previously existed.
The symbols used for grawlixes live along the top of our QWERTY keyboards, above the numbers, and normal folk usually don’t give the symbols much thought. If you’re familiar with my writings, you know I’m not often accused of normality, so I’ve given these symbols probably more thought than I should have. Like, what are the names of these symbols?
Take “@” for example. Since the introduction of the internet, almost everyone knows this as the “at” symbol. A columnist of sound mind would stop here, so I’ll continue. The “@” is known as “strudel” in Israel and “apestaart“ in the Netherlands, translating to, “monkey tail.”
In Sweden, it is called a snabel-a, (“a” with an elephant’s trunk).
In Germany, it is called a klammerraffe, a monkey hanging from a tree.
In Greece, it’s called a little duck.
These descriptive terms are much more colorful than our boring “at”!
Are those other symbols across the top of your keyboard conveniently arranged for a grawlix?
Without going into lengthy background — the manager of this newspaper limits my space so they can print actual news. What? — here are the names of those symbols:
‘ Grave, backtick, back quote
! Exclamation mark, bang
@ At sign
# Pound, hash, number
% 5E carat, hat, circumflex
& And, ampersand
( Open parenthesis
) Close parenthesis
– Hyphen, minus sign, dash
= Equal sign
+ Addition, plus sign
Now, with this newfound knowledge, whenever your bosses tick you off, you can curse at them in your next email with a grawlix and get some use out of those top-row characters without running afoul of the HR administrators! See you in the funny pages!
Mark Visse is a former EMS pilot living in Pinetop. He’s written for a number of publications around Arizona. Reach him at email@example.com