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How in the @^$%! did “@^$%!” come to represent swear words?

Ben Zimmer, writing for Slate looks at the history of @#$%! and how it came to represent swear words in comics.

In a 1964 article for the National Cartoonist Society, Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker coined the term grawlix, which, after a bit of evolution in its meaning, now refers to the string of typographical symbols that sometimes stands in for profanity. Anger is a fruitful comedic trope, after all, and so the quandary must have arisen for early cartoonists: How to depict that emotion without actually swearing, which is obviously inappropriate for the Funny Pages.

The earliest example comes the Katzenjammer Kids stip.

Community Comments

#1 steve skelton
October/10/2013
@ 10:07 am

How the #@&%**! would I know?!

#2 Mike Lester
October/10/2013
@ 10:14 am

I wondered the same thing.
http://www.gocomics.com/mike-du-jour/2012/11/23#.UlbSHxav1GM

#3 Stephen Beals
October/10/2013
@ 11:10 am

I thought it was literal: http://www.gocomics.com/adult-children/2013/08/13#.UlbfZBCQN70

#4 G Louis Johnson
October/10/2013
@ 7:14 pm

@MikeLester and @Stephen Beals; Those @^$%! gags are @^$%! funny.

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