Home » Books & Literature » Grawlixes are Symbols Used in Comics as a Substitute for Profanity or Other Vulgar Language. The Term was Coined by the Creator of Beetle, Mort Walker.

Grawlixes are Symbols Used in Comics as a Substitute for Profanity or Other Vulgar Language. The Term was Coined by the Creator of Beetle, Mort Walker.

Addison Morton Walker was an American comic strip writer best known for his newspaper comic strip Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois. He was quite popular for his craft but did you know he also coined the term Gawlixes?

Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey, coined the term “grawlixes” to describe the symbols used in comics to substitute profanity or other obscene language.

What are Grawlixes?

The term grawlix refers to a character or group of characters frequently replacing vulgar language. It is the visual equivalent of bleeping out a word.

The unpronounceable symbols that can be found above the number row on your computer keyboard, including the at sign (@), pound sign or octothorpe (#), dollar sign ($), percent sign (%), ampersand (&), and asterisk (*), are typically used to create grawlixes.

Although grawlixes were used in comics before him, the late cartoonist Mort Walker, who created Beetle Bailey, is credited with coining the term.

The Lexicon of Comicana, a book released in 1980, contains the terminology that Walker invented for the many comic book cliches. Walker also came up with the terms briffit for the cloud of dust left behind when a character flees quickly, and plewds for the sweat drops visible when a character is under stress. A spiral-shaped sign was also frequently present in Walker’s grawlixes.

The origin of the word grawlix is unknown. However, it is noteworthy that it sounds similar to the angry mumbling sound associated with the growl. It probably suited Beetle Bailey, whose lead character was a slothful army private, to need to show rage in a funny manner using suggested adult language. Since the strip was set on an army installation where kids weren’t often depicted as characters, it’s believable that vulgarity would come to the surface. Sergeant Snorkel and other characters would have found it convenient to vent their annoyance with the grawlix.

A grawlix’s symbols may occasionally be chosen to correspond to the word it is supposed to represent. In the heading $#*! For instance, according to my father, it is probably not a coincidence that the dollar sign and the octothorpe look similar to the first two letters of the word. (Source: Merriam Webster)

Origin of Using Symbols for Swearing

Swearing with symbols has a long history (some even think it traces back to Ancient Egypt, as many things do. But it’s up to two wild kids, Hans and Fritz, to be blamed for today’s buffet of symbolic swears. The tykes appeared in The Katzenjammer Kids, an early 1900s comic strip. Rudolph Dirks, the 20-year-old German immigrant cartoonist who created the kids, is widely credited with inventing the speech bubble and the comic iconography of profanity.

The first instance of symbolic swearing is found in a 1902 episode of the comic, in which the naughty Katzenjammers mess with Uncle Heinie on a ladder. Fuming, Uncle Heinie unleashes a speech bubble of [star]-[anchor]-!-!-?-[dung pile?]; the anchor is a particularly nice touch, what with swearings like a sailor and all. (Source: Dictionary

Image from Shutterstock.com

Leave a Comment