Symbol Swearing

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Donald Duck loves this trope.

Just in case there might be little ears around,
I won't say it, I'll just spell it out:
I feel like pound sign, question mark, star, exclamation point.

Kevin Fowler, "Pound Sign (#?*!)"

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.

@#$& Examples

£§€$ Advertising

  • This Porsche commercial for the GT2RS. Thoroughly appropriate.
  • A series of magazine adverts for Tennants Lager featured a pint of lager in various situations, with a pithy phrase underneath including the red T logo. One of them showed the glass smashing onto the floor, with the simple caption "$#!T"

&*#*@ Anime & Manga

  • In a rare and rather strange manga example, in the second volume of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, when Hughes tells Edward about the message from Roy, the curse word Edward uses to describe Roy is replaced with symbol swearing. However, the later volumes tend to leave in the swearing.
  • The Viz-translated JoJo's Bizarre Adventure uses this, primarily when Jotaro mutters his Catch Phrase. "Yare yare da ze" becomes "Gimme a $*&% break".
  • Likewise, the Viz-translated Pokémon Special.
  • In one chapter of Keroro Gunsou, a drunken Angol Mois offers herself to Keroro, though what she plans to do is replaced by random symbols and a caption reading "Not appropriate for those under 18".
  • Used in the English translation of Yu-Gi-Oh, mostly for Bandit Keith and Jonouchi. Hilarious with Keith, as most if not all of his sentences have at least one.
  • Used in the Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion manga to represent Lelouch's infamous girly scream.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima Chachamaru uses a form of Wingding font during her Immodest Orgasm the first time she is wound up by Negi.

#$%* Comic Books

  • Asterix uses nasty-looking rebus symbols to represent "ancient Gaulish swear-words." Variant symbols are used for speakers of different nationalities, which is especially visible in one book where Asterix joins the Roman army (It Makes Sense in Context). Since this is a polyglot legion of barbarians, there is a translator. At one point, the centurion is hit by a flying breastplate (no, not that variety) and curses in pain. The interpeter explains to a Goth what the centurion has just said. The centurion then asks what he just told the Goth, and the translator repeats the commander's cursing back to him. Specifically, the centurion says "skull-n-crossbones, spiral, heavy cross, ampersand". This gets "translated" into Gothic as "skull in a picklehaube, squared-off spiral, swastika, Gothic-font ampersand".
  • It's in fact very common in old comedic Franco-Belgian comics. The letterers tend to get creative and include Chinese ideograms, swastikas and drawings of volcanoes, explosions and skulls, or even WWI-Germany helmeted skulls blowing nuclear explosion mushrooms out of their orbital fenestrae.
  • Captain Haddock of Tintin, who swears like... well, a sailor, is more of a subversion: While he does sometimes employ symbol swearing, he also has a very rich Gosh Dang It to Heck vocabulary (Which was compiled into a dictionary).
  • Appears in Chick Tracts plenty of times.
    • Weirdly, in one example, where a teenager's swearing is rendered as random symbols, Bob then reprimands the boy for taking the name "Jesus Christ" in vain.
  • As shown above, Donald Duck tends to use this in his comics. It actually makes sense, when you realize in the cartoons you can't understand a thing he says in an angry rage. The image is from Don Rosa's comic The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros Ride Again.
  • Nextwave uses skull and crossbone symbols. This has spread across the Marvel Universe lately. One Nextwave character was named "Captain <string of skull and crossbones symbols>", until Captain America (comics) washed his mouth out with soap.
  • Pretty much the current record-holder for duration; Wolverine in Astonishing X-Men #6:

"Diplomatic #%@*&%!!@#$@%#%$##@@#$$%$#@#$$#%$#@#$%#%@$#$@$&&&%&@&$#%$##%&&&@&!! immunity?"

  • In Angloman, Poutinette's swears are represented by small pictures of items from the Catholic liturgy. French-Canadian swearing is famously replete with church-related words.
  • You might be surprised but it happened all the time in the original The Smurfs comics by Peyo. Yep, the comic overall was much less childlike than its Animated Adaptation.
    • It was even played with in one one-page gag story, where a random Smurf hits his foot with a hammer and begins Symbol Swearing up a storm until Papa Smurf tells him to wash his mouth out with soap. In the last panel, when the Smurf speaks again, his word balloon is completely clean, but now soap bubbles containing swear symbols are floating all around him.
    • On the other hand, bad words were never "smurfed out", except on one notable occasion in King Smurf referencing General Cambronne's last stand.
  • Subverted during the Giffen/DeMatteis run on Justice League, when Guy Gardner, in a fit of pique after accidentally destroying an alien ship that the US government wanted retrieved in one piece, starts swearing. Instead of a bunch of symbols, his angry speech balloon contains a single asterisk, leading to a footnote at the bottom of the frame reading, "Expletives (lots of 'em) deleted."
  • Zodon in PS238 does this during his first appearance. At the end of it, he's stopped because he gets a microchip implanted in his brain that censors his swearing by replacing the swears with random, non-offensive, words.
  • In the Dean Koontz graphic novel Odd Is on Our Side, Odd Thomas pulls a little girl from the path of a speeding car and the startled driver exclaims "!@#$%!" Odd narrates, "I really despise potty mouths who speak in symbols."
  • In Knight & Squire, when the Squire has a blazing row with her boyfriend, it's represented by them both saying the words "<Captain Haddock style swearword icons.>"
  • In Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog, Scourge the Hedgehog (Formerly Evil or Anti-Sonic) tends to do this on occasion. Notable as he seems to be the only character who does this on a semi-regular basis.
  • An interesting example: Alan Moore has no trouble using actual curse words, but in Top Ten, an incredibly awesome scene has Smax asking permission to break a foe's neck. The response from his captain is "Break her $#^&!(% neck, son", written with symbols. Even fans write it this way when they could write the curse out otherwise. It is also Painting the Fourth Wall: since Top Ten is a police procedural set in a comic book world, it would naturally have the characters curse in symbols.
    • On one occasion, the Norse gods were involved in a case. Their drunken cursing was censored with runic symbols.
  • This trope is occassionally used in The Beano and The Dandy to express a character's anger and they cant show swear words because those two comics are for children.
  • A story of Iznogoud had him asking Dilat Larat for a rope, when he was down a cliff. Dilat dropped the entire length of rope. Iznogoud began cursing, with bombs, bones, axes etc. Then a lot of these items began falling from above, seemingly dropped by Dilat who thought Iznogoud was asking for them.
  • A common feature of Evil-Ernie, which feels out of place considering how much Gorn adorns the pages.

Fan &!*@ Works

$*@^ Film

  • 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!"

&%$£!*@ Literature

  • Discworld
    • Invoked in Men at Arms, where we're told that Carrot's friendly greetings to everyone in Ankh-Morpork were reciprocated by people "whose normal response to a remark from a Watchman would be genteelly paraphrased by a string of symbols generally found on the top row of a typewriter's keyboard."
    • Carrot can also pronounce the asterisk in "d*mn," and "'!' said Rincewind" is, if not this trope, something close to it.
  • Also invoked in Xanth books. A set of repeated single symbols, such as #### is used and corresponds directly to a particular curse word in English, typically revealed by the reaction dialogue of the characters around them. This being Xanth, these words can literally start fires and peel paint.
    • In The Color of Her Panties, an underage Goblin learns a bunch of the rude words. So he's taken by force to the River Lethe to force him to forget the words. After the treatment, all his attempts to shout obscenities are written literally as "____".
  • The protagonist of The Pigman is "asked not to swear" and has two different substitutions, one for regular swears and one for really bad ones, and thinks it's convenient because the reader will likely come up with something far more creative than he ever could.

*@£# Print Media

  • One Dave Barry column was titled &*@##%$(!?,.<>+*&'%$!!@@$##%%^&.

Live-Action %^&* TV

!&#@$ Music

  • 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.

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.)

@#*£ Newspaper Comics

  • This Half Hitch strip.
  • Every Newspaper Comic ever has used these. Comics with adult characters, such as Dilbert, or aggressive humor, like Calvin and Hobbes 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."
  • Zits:
    • A Sunday strip involved Jeremy getting scolded for swearing (represented by grawlixes), and commented 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 strip has Beetle correcting Sarge's use of the word ☁ [black cloud], and goes into a lengthy explanation of which other symbol swears should be used in conjunction with it. None of which would make any sense in Real Life, since swearing does not work that way.
    • Other examples include Sarge being embarrassed over using old-style cussing like # ("No one says # anymore"), and one where a flower is included in the tirade because he "promised the chaplain he'd say something nice today".
    • Sgt. Snorkel has periodic swearing contests with Sgt. Webbing, often using Franco-Belgian style symbols, with their men in the background cheering them on and placing bets. Sgt. Webbing won at least once, with a simple black cloud with "CENSORED" inside it. They had to carry Sgt. Snorkle off on a stretcher.
    • At one time, Lt. Sonny Fuzz tried to force Sgt. Snorkel to use substitutes for swearing. In a fit of anger and total frustration, Sgt. Snorkel unleashes a barrage of Symbol Swearing that had inside of the Speech Balloon the shark from Jaws, a Mushroom Cloud, and even Dracula. The end result of it all? One of Lt. Fuzz's medals had MELTED.
  • 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 Magazine parody of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 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).

&+$# Video Games

  • Sam and Max Freelance Police
    • Referenced in the video game Sam and Max Hit the Road, in a conversation with a foul-mouthed psychic who gets his words bleeped out, which leads to the following exchange:

Sam: Percent sign ampersand dollar sign.
Max: And colon semicolon too!
Psychic: What are you @!#$ doing?
Sam: Swearing in longhand, asterisk-mouth.

    • Also in Sam and Max, but in the Season 2 finale, Timmy Two-Teeth, a character who is constantly bleeped out due to his "terminal Tourette's syndrome", has personal writing lessons: For the moment, he knows how to write ampersands, number symbol and percents.
  • This is pretty much Q*bert's Catch Phrase. It was originally going to be his name!
  • Parodied in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Princess Peach (really Birdo dressed up) has her voice stolen at the start of the game by Fawful and Cackletta, and her words are replaced with symbols. However, the symbols actually fall from her speech bubbles and explode like bombs. She then proceeds to make a long speech and nearly blows up the entire castle.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day played with this trope whenever anyone said f$&*@!.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, every other word Barret muttered is one of these. Particularly Egregious when during some of his swears, the symbols are longer than most curses have letters.
  • In the Homestar Runner game Kid Speedy, the hero, is slowed down by a variety of junk foods... and swears, shown as "@!?#!". The King of Town, who is a reverse of the hero, gains speed from these items. Yes, even the swears.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel, most of Ed's swearing is left in except for one instance where Armony falls on him. Ed demands an apology and when Armony decides to be a smartass about it, Ed is not amused.

Ed: #@$%&!! Where are YOUR manners!?!? Is that the attitude you cop after using someone's back as a #@$&ing trampoline!?

  • One of the most famous moments in the American dub of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is Matthew breaking out the grawlix for a Precision F-Strike in the final dungeon when Alex shows up.
  • In the City of Heroes MMORPG, there is a "Profanity Filter" setting that can be turned on or off as the player chooses. When it's on, swear words in chat windows appear either as <bleep> or a short string of grawlix.
    • Same thing in WoW; the #@$&ing thing got stuck on after a recent patch, so there were several mods to turn it off again. One of them was named something like '#@$& off #@$& filter'
  • In Escape from Monkey Island, Guybrush asks Herman Toothrot, "How do I get off this [bleep] island?", as the swearing is bleeped in the dialogue and replaced by symbols in the in-game text.
  • In Super Mario Bros. 2, when the defeated Wart is hauled away at the end, various symbols fly from him as he's taken offscreen.
  • In Jet Set Willy 2, when you complete the game, Willy finds himself back in Manic Miner in "Oh $#!+! The Central Cavern!"
  • In Crystal Castles, Bentley the bear followed in Q*Bert's footsteps by uttering "#?!" when his last life was lost.
  • Subverted in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun - a GDI soldier responds to approaching Nod forces by yelling "Oh $#!+". Hardly ambiguous what he was yelling.

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."

Web *?#~! Comics

McRain: You sounded like you were #$%&ing in here!
Valentine: What's #$%&?
McRain: Censorship you idiot!

  • 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 newspaper comics.)
  • 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 this Bear and Tiger page.
  • In Sinfest, Monique's reaction to hurting her foot includes this. Also F! and S! without asterisks.
  • Played with in this !! strip of Lost in Translation, in which apparently the cusser was actually saying the punctuation?

*+%$ 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 Tagline, "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.