Hello! Jed kindly brought me in to write about Words’n’Stuff. My name is Ed Bernstein, and I like words. And stuff. Both of those things. So that should work out just fine, I hope.

I had known for some time that grawlix were the characters used in comic strips to indicate swearing—as it might be &#%@!. I think I had known that it was Mort Walker who invented the term, tho’ he used a hand-scribble rather than the characters. As Mr. Walker died this week, that little piece of information surfaced again. It turns out that it comes from a book he wrote called The Lexicon of Comicana, which contains not only grawlix but plewds and squeans and the briffit. The briffit is the little cloud that is left behind when a comic character runs—or more accurately the cloud that a comic artist draws to indicate that there is movement. The speed of that movement is indicated by the number of hites, the horizontal lines between the character and the briffit.

The thing I find so delightful about all this is that these neologisms were jokes that have become actual words. Mr. Walker made up silly words for things that didn’t have words, and because there was an actual need for words to talk about those things, people started using his silly words, and now they are, well, just words. They’re not in the OED yet, but they probably will be.


4 Responses to “grawlix”

  1. KTO

    But what are plewds and squeans?

    • -Ed.

      Plewds are the little drops of sweat that indicate tension (or fear, or sometimes embarrassment), and squeans are the little bursts over a character’s head that indicate intoxication. Squeans can be mixed with squirls and/or crottle eyes, depending on the state of drunkenness…

  2. Jim Moskowitz

    And what are the graphic elements in comics from other cultures, and what are they named? For instance, I’m sure manga has a visual vocabulary different from Walker’s.

    • -Ed.

      Jim, I’ll tell you: I don’t know. My limited reading in that field tells me that there are definitely plewds, squeans and crottle eyes, but I don’t know what they are called. And I’d love to know if there’s a word for that rectangular angry mouth thing, too—that seems like a useful sort of word to know.


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