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Fun with Symbols!

Are you wearing your mask? It could be a matter of life and death, seriously, so you can bet I’m wearing mine.

Additionally, I look forward to wearing mine because it’s made out of fun punctuation fabric, and I’m a language-loving word nerd in every way. It’s also lovingly made and perfectly sewed by my mom, and I’m proud to show off her work.

When I shared my mask photo with my friends, some chuckled because of the fabric pattern and my friend, Jeff, said it could be substituted for the letters when writing curse words, as in “I hate that %!#& coronavirus!” Why yes, it can be substituted for that, and I replied with the name for that string of characters: grawlix.


Merriam-Webster defines it as “the character or series of characters that often appear in place of profanity—the graphical version of bleeping out a word, if you will.” The plural is “grawlixes.”

It’s pronounced as it looks, but in this interesting video of 20 tiny details you didn’t know about comic strips, at one-minute in it’s said as “growlix.”

Who coined the term?

Webster’s says that although the use of grawlixes in comics preceded him, it is credited to the late cartoonist Mort Walker (1923-2018), creator of Beetle Bailey, which debuted in 1950. The dictionary says it’s not clear where Walker came up with grawlix (other info below), but it is noteworthy that the word resembles “growl,” which suggests the kind of muttering sound one makes when angry.


Another website says that “grawlixes” were introduced in the article "Let's Get Down to Grawlixes" (1964) and revisited in Walker’s book The Lexicon of Comicana (1980). An excerpt is shared from Walker’s scrapbook where he says, “It started out as a joke for the National Cartoonists Society magazine. I spoofed the tricks cartoonists use, like dust clouds when characters are running or lightbulbs over their heads when they get an idea.”

Preferred symbols

Also shared about grawlixes are observations from others, including from Bill Schmalz who wrote The Architect’s Guide to Writing for Design and Construction Professionals: "The symbols that work best [for grawlixes] are those that fill up space: @, #, $, %, and &. Hyphens, plus signs, asterisks, and carets (^) leave too much white space within the body of the grawlix for it to look like a single word. Because it represents words spoken in anger or excitement, the grawlix should always end with an exclamation mark, even if it's an interrogative grawlix: @#$%&?!

Coffee cup on fabric placemat

Schmalz recommends to not use the characters in professional writing as it’s “highly inappropriate” and to reserve its use with close friends in emails.

That's true and good behavior, but they're definitely appropriate on masks and even little placemats for your coffee mug, aka "mug rugs," also lovingly made by my mom.

Dear Mom, thank you for keeping me safe! Love you! xoxo

Say it with Steele, x C


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