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A cartoon with the charactersswearing represented with grawlixes (sense 1.2).
Profanity by a cartoon character indicated by a grawlix (sense 1.3).

A meaningless word[1] coined by the American comic strip writer Mort Walker (1923–2018) in a humorous article entitled “Let’s Get Down to Grawlixes” published in The Cartoonist (1964),[2][3] possibly influenced by growl.[4]





grawlix (plural grawlixes or grawlix) (comics)

  1. A series of images or symbols used in speech bubbles in comic strips to indicate one or more swear words.
    1. An image resembling an illegible scribble used for this purpose. [from mid 1960s]
      • 1975, Mort Walker, “50-50 or Fight”, in Backstage at the Strips, [New York, N.Y.]: A&W Visual Library, →ISBN, page 31:
        There is a wealth of comicana waiting for the student with enough drive and depth of understanding. Once he masters the secret of the waftarom, the solrad, and the grawlix, he can mix in any art circle but he's own his own from here on.
      • 1980, Mort Walker, “Indicia”, in The Lexicon of Comicana, Authors Guild edition, Lincoln, Neb.: iUniverse, published 2000, →ISBN, page 52:
        Even in today's permissive society many four letter words are not permissible in the comics. [] So the creative mind came up with a variety of "jarns," "quimps," "nittles," and "grawlixes" to help convey a sergeant's strong emotion and add color and dimension to his personality.
        A graphic on the page depicts grawlixes as illegible scribbles.
      • 1995 February 21, William H[oward] Gass, “Culp”, in The Tunnel, Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, published 2014, →ISBN, page 159:
        He does all the Popeye voices, but prefers Olive Oyl's. He has noises for the nittles, the grawlix, the quimps, the jarns. He blows each balloon up before your ears. He reels home, +'s on his eyes, singing the spurl that rises like heat from his head.
      • 1997, Ken Weber, Five Minute Challenge #1, Toronto, Ont.: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, →ISBN, page 148:
        Thus, in a singles bar you’re probably better to stick with jarns, nettles, grawlices, and quimps (comic-book swearing).
        Grawlices is a rare plural form.
    2. A string of typographical symbols (such as "@#$%&!") used for this purpose.
      Synonym: obscenicon
      • 2011 May 18, Heidi Stevens, “What the grawlix?”, in Chicago Tribune[3], Chicago, Ill.: Tribune Publishing, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 2022-11-16:
        When Chicago-based author and illustrator Anders Nilsen was a political-minded college student at University of New Mexico, grawlix granted him a glimmer of fame. Demonstrating against a newly-enacted law, Nilsen wielded a hand-painted sign reading "F*&# Proposition 187." [] As a fellow comic writer, [Paul] Hornschemeier prefers what he calls "the other species" of grawlix, which is when the entire expletive is replaced by symbols. "When you see just the pure symbols, you imagine, 'OK, these are some dirty words,'" he says. "But the reader definitely becomes the author of that filth."
      • 2014, Bill Schmalz, edited by Sabita Naheswaran, The Architect’s Guide to Writing: For Design and Construction Professionals, Mulgrave, Vic.: The Images Publishing Group, →ISBN, page 88:
        The symbols that work best are those that fill up space: @, #, $, %, and &. Hyphens, plus signs, asterisks and carets (^) leave too much white space within the body of the grawlix for it to look like a single word. [] Because it represents words spoken in anger or excitement, the grawlix should always end with an exclamation mark, even if it's an interrogative grawlix: @#$%&?! Finally, as a word of caution, you should reserve your use of grawlixes for emails to close friends. Grawlixes are highly inappropriate for any professional writing. And about that, at least, I'm not kidding.
      • 2016, Sonia Zyngier, Vander Viana, “Literary Awareness in a High-school EFL Learning Environment: An Empirical Evaluation”, in Michael Burke, Olivia Fialho, Sonia Zyngier, editors, Scientific Approaches to Literature in Learning Environments (Linguistic Approaches to Literature; 24), Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Pa.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, →DOI, →ISBN, page 287:
        The work in this first section also involved identifying the purpose of grawlixes, the visual representation of swearing in comic strips. [] The students discussed the aim of grawlixes, raising their awareness of the effectiveness of graphic displays.
      • 2020 December 6, Curtis Honeycutt, “Grammar Guy: Saying goodbye to the year of the grawlix”, in Marc Chase, editor, The Times (Lifestyle section), Porter County edition, volume 112, number 125; volume 110, number 85, Munster, Ind.: The Times Media Company, Lee Publications, Lee Enterprises, →OCLC, page D11, columns 4–5:
        If I told you that a grawlix infestation is inevitable, you'd probably respond with something to the effect of, "What the $#@! are you talking about?" [] I have responded to most of 2020 with a series of grawlixes. For instance, when I learned that we've had more than 26 hurricanes, so the hurricane-naming people move to the Greek alphabet to start naming hurricanes, I said, "You've got to be &#@$ kidding me!"
      • 2021 June 20, Jim Beckerman, “Matters of Fact: Why do people hate newspapers?”, in Daily Record, volume 34, number 205, Parsippany, N.J.: Gannett, →OCLC, page 5D:
        Hate mail is just straightforward abuse. It's a verbal stinkbomb, a middle finger from a car window, the equivalent of what is called, in the comic-strip trade, grawlixes: @%&&#!!
    3. A series of violence-related images (such as bombs, daggers, and skulls) used for this purpose.

Coordinate terms





  1. ^ grawlix, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ Mort Walker (1964) “Let’s Get Down to Grawlixes”, in The Cartoonist, Westport, Conn.: National Cartoonists Society, →OCLC, pages 23 and 25.
  3. ^ Ben Zimmer (2013 October 9) “Lexicon Valley: How Did @#$%&! Come to Represent Profanity?”, in Slate[1], New York, N.Y.: The Slate Group, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 17 November 2022.
  4. ^ “Words We’re Watching: What the #@*% is a ‘Grawlix’? You’ll be Amazed by the Answer, We Swear”, in Merriam-Webster Online[2], 2018 April 18, archived from the original on 3 December 2022.

Further reading