What Is A Grawlix?

By Antonia Čirjak on July 15 2020 in Did You Know

What the @#$%&? is a grawlix, you ask?
What the @#$%&? is a grawlix, you ask?
  • Grawlix is a series of symbols that are used to replace a profanity in comic strips. It is how cartoon characters swear without using the actual swear words or adult language in print.
  • The term was coined by Addison Morton Walker, an American comic artist known as the creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois in the 1950s, as well as an author of several books about comics.
  • Grawlix is one of the oldest methods of avoiding censorship in newspaper comics, but it was not named until the publishing of Walker's article for the National Cartoonist Society.

What the @#$%&? is a grawlix, you ask? If you have ever read a comic strip, you have seen a grawlix. However, chances are you did not know these series of characters has a name. Grawlix is a series of symbols that are used to replace a profanity in comic strips. It is how cartoon characters swear without using the actual swear words or adult language in print.

It was a necessary device for artists to avoid censorship but still be able to convey emotions of anger. Grawlixes have been around since the beginning of newspaper comics, but the terminology has not. The main culprit behind this and many other comic strip terminology was Mort Walker.

The History Of @#$%&!? 

The term was coined by Addison Morton Walker, an American comic artist known as the creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois in the 1950s, as well as an author of several books about comics. Beetle Bailey, in particular, had a readership of circa 200 million daily in 50 countries. Mort Walker founded a museum dedicated to preserving comic strip and animation art, called the National Cartoon Museum. He also won numerous accolades for his works and contribution to the field.

Grawlixes have been around since the beginning of newspaper comics, but the terminology has not.
Grawlixes have been around since the beginning of newspaper comics, but the terminology has not.

Grawlix was initially mentioned in his article "Let's Get Down to Grawlixes," and after that, it became a widely used term among critics and cartoonists. It was a joke article, but many people appreciated it. That is what prompted him to write his book, "The Lexicon of Comicana." It is a satirical look at the different devices used by comic artists all over the world (Walker would do his research reading old cartoons in a museum).

He named and explained various cartoon symbols that artists use such as quimps (planets that are symbols for obscenities), squeans (stars that appear above the head of a character when he is dizzy or drunk), emanata (lines that represent shock or awe), indotherm (lines that represent heat), and many more.

The Art Of Comic Strip Swearing

Grawlix is one of the oldest methods of avoiding censorship in newspaper comics, but it was not named until the publishing of Walker's article for the National Cartoonist Society. @#$%& is suggested by many as a standard grawlix, but there are no rules. These are the symbols that use the most space, and that is how they appear on the keyboard.

Grawlix can be a series of any typographical symbols, but the best ones are those that fill space (such as @,#,$,%,&), unlike plus signs or asterisks. Because it mostly represents a profanity, spoken in anger, or similar emotion, it is customary to end it with an exclamation mark. Unfortunately, we do not know the real reason why Mort Walker chose this word specifically. Still, it could be because it is akin to the meaning of the word growl, a low sound made in the throat similar to how people sometimes express profanities.

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