Miscellany № 90: 🌀🪐☆✻, or, the grawlix

This sentence:

I really #\*$@% want to visit a museum.

combines a truthful statement with what is known as a grawlix — a pile of non-alphanumeric characters intended to represent (and censor) a profanity.

I’ve been meaning to write about grawlixes for what is probably a few years now, but which, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus catastrophe, feels more like a few decades. The word (though not the typographical practice) was coined by the American newspaper cartoonist Mort Walker, whose bona fides derive from his creation, in 1950, of a comic strip called Beetle Bailey that he continued to produce until his death in 2018. (A 1954 spin-off, Hi and Lois, is carried on by his sons.)1 Walker introduced the grawlix and its relatives to the world at large in a 1975 book called Backstage at the Strips that, in turn, made reference to an earlier “presentation” concerning the grawlix:2,3

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