How Type Symbols Became an Accepted Means of Swearing in Print

(via) Curse words can often be useful in getting one’s point across, but most communicators will only use them when they’re certain the people they’re talking to won’t get offended. It’s different in print, however, where writers, cartoonists and publishers don’t necessarily know their readers and thus are sensitive to their…er…sensitivities.

The advent of the comic strip – a colloquial and profane medium if ever there was one – figured out a new way to use typed symbols in sequence as a substitute, thus allowing their characters to be more human and relatable than ever before. Vox explains how it happened in this short but illuminating #$@!% video:

Known as the “grawlix” — a term invented by Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker — this string of symbols is almost as old as comics, extending back to the early 1900s. Comics like The Katzenjammer Kids and Lady Bountiful were truly inventing the art form and, in the process, had to figure out a way to show obscenities to kids. Enter #*@!$ like this. The grawlix performs a censorship function while, at the same time, revealing that something naughty is going on.

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