The Suitcase Lady


May 19, 2015, 6:54 pm

“Do you know what a grawlix is?” a young relative recently asked me.

“I certainly don’t, but I would like to know,” was my reply.

“Well”, he said, “it’s the name for those funny symbols cartoonists use in place of swear words.”

He and I are both hard core readers, and we were delighted to acquire this new word which he had come across in a witty young adult book he had been reading.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to find out more about the grawlix. The word was invented by Mort Walker, the cartoonist who created Beetle Bailey. In 1980 he wrote a book, The Lexicon of Comicana. Intended as a satire, the book explores the devices cartoonists use in their drawings. After researching cartoons from around the globe, Walker catalogued a set of symbols he calls  “symbolia”. Then he invented quirky names for the symbols.

One day in a book store, Mort was looking for his book and couldn’t find it. He asked a salesperson for help and was told his book was in the “Language” section. He had been looking for his book under “Humor”. The joke was on him: his satirical book was taken seriously and his tongue in check names are now found in dictionaries.

Here are a few samples of his witty word inventions.

Agitrons: wiggly lines around a shaking object or character

Blurgits, swalloops: Curved lines preceding or trailing after a character’s moving limbs

Briffits: Clouds of dust that hang in the spot of a swiftly departing character or object.

Plewds: Flying sweat droplets that appear around a character’s head when working hard or stressed.


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