Over time, people have %&*#
come up with various @$#& handy ways to insert $(^& swearing, or at least the @+)^ recognition of ^%*& swearing, without setting off the $)+$ Censor Alarms. One of the oldest and easiest #*%^ ways to do this is by $%&^ inserting random %&$#?@! symbols. This ()%$ method of &%&$ censorship has been seen in @*+^ newspaper comics from the #$%* beginning, making this trope Older Than #*^$ Radio
Fun fact: The technical terms for such a stream of symbols is "grawlix
", or "profanitype".
More *#&$ common in recent &$*^ times is the &+$# use of f***ing asterisks instead of f$%&ing random symbols, a case of T-Word Euphemism
at work. See #$%@ Sound Effect Bleep
for the )#%^ audio version, and ^%#+ Narrative Profanity Filter
for other #^@$ ways of creatively conveying *+$# foul language.
A #*%^ subtrope of Pictorial Speech Bubble
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&*#*@ Anime & Manga
#$%* Comic Books
Comic @#*£ Strips
- Every Newspaper Comic ever has used these. Comics with adult characters, such as Dilbert, or aggressive humor, like Pearls Before Swine tend to use these more often than tamer comics such as Peanuts.
- Parodied in FoxTrot, when Peter stubs his toe and starts ranting the words "Asterisk! Dollar sign! Ampersand" and so forth, later commenting, "Comic strip curse words leave something to be desired."
- A Sunday strip involves Jeremy getting scolded for swearing (represented by grawlixes), and comments that he's the only guy he knows who has a less colorful vocabulary than Beetle Bailey.
- A daily strip has Jeremy saying "Star-Asterisk-Fishbone!" when he hurts himself, and when Hector comments on it (apparently it's the equivalent of Gosh Dang It to Heck!) he explains that his mother will kill him if he says [string of grawlixes].
- Speaking of Beetle Bailey:
- One stretch of Get Fuzzy cartoons has Satchel actually pronounce his Symbol Swearing ("Did you leave this lightning bolt plus sign brick on the floor?").
- The Moomins have played with this trope in their newspaper comic, though they take things a little further than normal: Swear words are represented by physical, tangible and agressive little creatures who run around and cause havoc. At one point, the Moomins find an entire box of them floating out at sea, mentioning that there must have been some sailor who decided to stop swearing and threw all his swear words overboard. After the swear words have been making nuisances of themselves for a while, the Moomins get rid of them by, as a practical joke, wrapping them up and sending them by mail to an old, prissy aunt.
- In the MAD parody of ET The Extraterrestrial, the main character's friends insult each other with typical insults like "butt-head," "armpit" and "nerd," and when the main character uses this kind of swearing, his mother tells him that there will not be any asterisks, dollar signs or ampersands spoken in their house.
- Used frequently in Pearls Before Swine, sometimes straight, and sometimes as meta humor (Rat using the planet in the line of symbols to replace a missing Saturn from Pig's Solar System model).
- Watch Your Head does this a lot.
- One strip has Garfield watching an Uncle Roy episode where he goes to a factory. When Uncle Roy gets too close to a machine, he says "Turn this #%^$ thing off!"
- Guess what happens when Garfield's lips get stuck to popsicle.
- This was used quite a lot in Dogs of C-Kennel, usually by Will.
- In the original newspaper strip version of Popeye, the sailor man himself can often be seen swearing like... well, like a sailor. But it's always shown in the talk balloons as Symbol Swearing.
Fan &!*@ Works
$*@^ Films — Live-Action
- Subverted in Hot Fuzz, when we see the "swear box", it has a sign on it showing the price for each swear word. All the words have at least one letter changed to a symbol, except for "cunt", the highest priced word, which is left unaltered.
- Used in 1927 silent film The Cat and the Canary, when aunt Susan finds Paul hiding under her bed.
- What the #$*! Do We Know!?, a dramatized discussion of quantum physics and spirituality. Generally pronounced as "What the Bleep Do We Know".
- A Christmas Story: "Only I didn't say fudge. It was the word! The big one! The queen mother of dirty words! The "F dash dash dash" word!" Here.
- Played with in In the Loop. "You are a real boring fuck. Sorry, sorry, I know you disapprove of swearing, so I'll sort that out. You are a boring F star star cunt!"
Live-Action %^&* TV
- As quoted above, Country Music artist Kevin Fowler has a song called "Pound Sign (#?*!)" which lampshades this trope.
- KMFDM's Symbols album title is supposedly this. The title appears in one of the songs as a Sound Effect Bleep.
- Eric Idle's I bet you they won't play this song on the radio, which is all bleeps and sound effects. No two bleeps are the same, though.
- Cledus T. Judd has "What the *$@# Did You Say", a parody of Martina McBride's "Whatever You Say" that deals with poor cell phone reception. The offending word is censored by a burst of static.
- Wayne Carson recorded a C&W song in 1967 (later covered by Sam The Sham) with the tag line "I'd have wrote you a letter, but I couldn't spell <ppthblbplt>". The song's title was printed on the label as "I Couldn't Spell !✱¢#!".
New %&$@ Media
- Getting Crap Past the Radar variant, occasionally seen online: $#!+.
- Which dates at least to Jet Set Willy II on the ZX Spectrum (the very last screen is called Oh $#!+! The Central Cavern, a backreference to the earlier Manic Miner).
- The Totally Radical brain injury prevention site U Got Brains uses this for the title of one of its sections, "Can't Make This S#!* Up", presumably to enhance its image. The title as seen on the actual page is written in a graffiti-style that tries to make it look as close to its obscene counterpart as possible. Interestingly, a different set of symbols are used before you mouse over the link, including the biohazard symbol.
- This may crop up in surprising places due to automatic profanity filters, such as when discussing Philip K. D!ck on Delphi discussion boards. (If you just write it outright, it becomes Philip K. ####.)
- Comicbook boards with profanity filters can also be fun. I've enjoyed many a discussion of Batman's first Robin, *** Grayson.
- The filters themselves may replace the words with these symbols. The Steam forums replace swears with rows of pink hearts. This has been parodied from time to time, such as a homemade Team Fortress 2 map that featured a sign reading "ATTACK THAT ♥♥♥♥ING FORT", and a forum post where "Meet the Demoman" was quoted thus:
"I'm a black, Scottish cyclops. They got more ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
than they got the likes o' me." (NOTE: The hearts correspond to a lengthy Sound Effect Bleep
at the exact same spot in the movie.)
*@£# Print Media
- In most newspaper stories, the offending words in a statement containing profanity (where there is no compelling reason to use the word) is often replaced with dashes, with only the initial letter shown. For instance, "damn" might be replaced by d—-. This is the simplest form of using symbols to acknowledge but censor use of profanity. While the less severe profanity — such as damn and hell and occasionally ass — is often spelled out these days, the dashes are used for the more harsh words and, frequently, for the "n" word.
- One Dave Barry column was titled &*@##%$(!?,.<>+*&'%$!!@@$##%%^&. The narrator of the audiobook used muffled grunts and squeaks as an equivalent.
- The old gaming rag Game Players was especially fond of using "@$$" as a substitute for "the 'ass' word."
&+$# Video Games
Web *~@^# Animation
- One of Sceb's mailbag cartoons on Fred The Monkey has a fan threatening to "@$%#^ THE #%^&!@ OUT OF YOU!!!!" Sceb pronounces this as "symbol the symbols out of you."
- Button's Adventures: After Button's mother grounds him, he swears in his invented language Humgonian, and the English subtitles provided just give us some random symbols.
Web *?#~! Comics
- For webcomic artists, Blambot offers a freeware font called Potty Mouth, which makes true use of this trope.
- Lampshaded in a 2003 Ozy and Millie strip.
- Used by Iron Jane in an episode of Everyday Heroes. Subverted on the very next page when she fails to knock out Mr. Mighty, swearing, "Oh, shinola."
- Appears in a cover page of GastroPhobia. Interestingly, one of the symbols is a hand giving the middle finger. An earlier comic had a character use the word "bullshitting", so the use of this trope is clearly stylistic or Rule of Funny. Since it's the cover for the story that follows, this is probably to keep actual dialog off it.
- One episode of the World of Warcraft strip Dark Legacy Comics has Donald, the resident "not the sharpest banana in the bunch", stub his toe and yell, "And dollars at star number!" After repeating it a few times, another character tells him he really needs to turn off his &$@*# profanity filter.
- Along with a case of Agony of the Feet in Girl Genius, the Symbol Swearing gets subtitles. Okay, maybe not absolutely faithful subtitles... it is doubtful Agatha's language stays that refined.
- Used occasionally in Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name.
- A variation of this trope is in God(tm) where photographs of Arno, a friend of the webcomic creator, are used to replace various naughty naughty words.
- Yuck Heads replaces all swearing with this to parody censorship.
- An episode has Drow leader Matron Stress say, "You just don't get it, do you, Elsa? Ogrek is beyond strategy. Better minds than mine have tried to undo him. Everything he does always @*!$ works out for him. *§%# his @*#¶>\&¿¢£¥!!!" Persephone the Affably Evil vampire asks Elsa what that last word meant and is told, "I'll tell you when you're older."
- In another strip, Persephone, insisting that vampires are the epitome of cool, claimed to have "the lowest body temperature and *!¥¢#ingest wardrobe of the lot of you!" A footnote pointed out that adding a superlative suffix to "*!¥¢#" was completely ungrammatical.
- Used periodically in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, usually by Jean, sometimes in a comedic triple such as "Egads... Holy Hackensack... !?$&!!!^&!"
- Spelling counts in Urban Jungle.
- Toyed with in 1/0. (Marcus can hear the swearing because he is not Genre Savvy.)
- El Goonish Shive
- Mortifer doesn't censor swear words, but it ends up lampshading this trope anyway:
- Kazumi Kato unleashes a flood of these in The Order of the Stick, before which they had been used very sparingly. (Web comics can get away with slightly more colorful language than comic books and comic strips.)
- Wapsi Square
- The webcomic managed to find a way to subvert this trope. What looks like just slightly unusual symbol swearing here is actually a language known by very few people that becomes a plot point later on.
- Used here in the normal way.
- Used in a page of Bear and Tiger.
- Played with in a !! strip of Lost in Translation, in which apparently the cusser was actually saying the punctuation.
- In Homestuck, Jane usually swears like this in pesterlogs.
- A hilariously brief one is delivered by Zenith in Commander Kitty.
- In Pv P this was Jade's sister's reaction to a suggestion that she receive some sensitivity training and Francis' reaction to Max Powers roleplaying.
- Basic Instructions uses this to such a degree that the first book was called "The Mummy's Curse", with said mummy saying "&*#$!" on the cover.
- The author of Selkie uses this in a clever way — either the symbols spell out the cuss word using Fun with Acronyms, or the symbols themselves substitute for a full word (such as Cross = God, Fire = Damn, etc.). Word of God says he prefers this method to actually putting in the language because of Rule of Funny.
- Lampshaded here in The Cartoon Chronicles of Conroy Cat.
*+%$ Web Original
- Lampshaded in a Protectors of the Plot Continuum mission where an Agent actually pronounces grawlix.
- An actual, useful new search engine for programmers, SymbolHound, plays with this: it has the Tag Line, "for finding @%$^#&! symbols." That is exactly what it does — allows one to search for those symbols (among others) — but still, it's obvious what they mean, as anyone who's tried to search for symbols using other search engines has probably complained about their lack of *$(%ing support for that.
*&^%$! Western Animation
- The closed captioning on South Park used to use grawlixes to represent any swearing that was beeped out.
- The Garfield and Friends segment "The Guy of Her Dreams" had a comic book where Penelope does this shown during the last song she sings.
- Played with in the "Daring Don't" episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: one of Caballeron's mook has grawlix as a cutie mark. The others, in the same vein, have different comic book effects for cutie marks.
- In Meet the Robinsons, one of the entries on the Bowler Hat Guy's "Things to Do" list is "Get that @!!*# boy".
- Used in the Gravity Falls episode "Society of the Blind Eye", when translating Old Man McGucket's reaction (in hamboning) to discovering the eponymous society's sinister purpose.