Grawlix | Meaning, Definition, Examples & Use

Rhetoric updated on  December 6, 2023 2 min read
Grawlix is a term for the use of an unpronounceable string of punctuation in place of a curse word or other taboo term. It can also be called “obscenicon” (a portmanteau of “obscenity” and “emoticon”) or “symbol swearing.”

Comic strips often use grawlix to show that a character is saying or thinking something “unprintable”—often to express frustration or surprise. It can also be used on social media to hide profanity. An instance of grawlix can appear alone or as part of a sentence.

Grawlix example
“I had a $%#! day, and I’m $%@!%&$ tired!”
“@$%&#!”

Use QuillBot's paraphrasing tool to find your creative voice!


Uses of grawlix

A grawlix is made up exclusively of various punctuation marks, typically a mixture of:

  • At signs @
  • Exclamation points !
  • Question marks ?
  • Ampersands &
  • Hash symbols #
  • Dollar (or other currency) signs $
  • Percentage symbols %
  • Asterisks *
The symbols may appear in any order. There may be the same number of characters as the word(s) the grawlix replaces, but not necessarily. Grawlix cannot be read aloud but is the textual equivalent of auditory censorship like the use of a “bleep” sound in a TV broadcast.

Grawlix is not used in formal contexts like academic writing, but it’s commonly used in informal communications via text and social media, especially when the user wants to use language that isn’t officially allowed on the platform in question. The “angry face” emoji (🤬) also features grawlix.

In order to make the specific word identifiable, people sometimes use a mixture of symbols and letters or pick symbols for their resemblance to the letters they represent. It’s also common to use asterisks (*) to censor one or more individual letters (often vowels) in a word.

Grawlix example: Partial grawlix
“$#!T! That’s f@*ked up.”
“Ugh, I’m gonna d*e if I have to get up early tomorrow.”
“OMG, are you talking about J*ss*ca?”

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Commas

Commonly confused words

Modelling vs modeling

Comma before or after so

Into vs in to

Defence vs defense

Comma before or

Awhile vs a while

Favourite vs favorite

Comma before while

A vs an

Theatre vs theater

Comma before which

Its vs it’s

Organisation vs organization

Comma splice

Use to or used to


Frequently asked questions about grawlix

What’s it called when you use symbols to replace curse words?

The term for the use of typographical symbols to replace curse words is grawlix. The term was coined by the cartoonist Mort Walker to describe a common trend in comic books.

Outside of comics, grawlix may be encountered on social media and used for humorous effect or to avoid excessive profanity in some book titles. It consists of a random string of punctuation such as at signs, exclamation points, question marks, and dollar signs (e.g., “#$%@!”).

What are common curse word symbols?

Two common ways of censoring curse words in text are:

  • Replacing some letters (usually the vowels) with asterisks (e.g., “sh*t”)
  • Using grawlix, a random string of punctuation—usually ampersands, at signs, exclamation points, question marks, hash symbols, and dollar signs—to replace the entire word (e.g., “What the $#&!?”)

What is a grawlix generator?

Grawlix is the use of punctuation marks to replace profanity in text. A grawlix generator is a tool that automatically generates a random series of punctuation marks to replace a word.

You can of course also write your own grawlix by just typing a random selection of punctuation such as “@$#&!” in place of the relevant word.


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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in literature. He writes about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.

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