How Random @#*%!$ Characters (Grawlixes) Became Common Censor-Avoiding Replacements for Profanity

In a @#*%!$ interesting Vox video essay, correspondent Phil Edwards explains how random keyboard symbols entered the common lexicon as acceptable substitutes for profanity. The origins lie with early comics at the turn of the twentieth century. By the mid-century, the practice had become so popular that in 1964, cartoonist Mort Walker humorously gave this random string of characters the name Grawlixes.

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.