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Symbol Swearing

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It sounds more like French to me.

"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 — besides just slapping a black censor bar over the text and leaving the details to the reader's fertile imagination — is by inserting random %&$#?@! symbols. This method of censorship has been seen in newspaper comics from the beginning, making this trope Older Than Radio. Traditionally they include characters that don't exist on a keyboard — stars and other astronomical objects, clouds and lightning bolts, skulls and bombs are all classic parts of this symbology — but basic ASCII will do in a pinch. While a single bout of swearing may be represented by only one set of symbols, it's more common for a variety of different things to be mixed together in a single speech balloon.


Alternatively, thick scribbles may be used instead to suggest hastily and forcefully scrawled writing — and consequently angry, fast speech — without actually resembling any specific words.

The severity of a given bout of swearing may also be represented by the nature of the symbols. A few sequences of ASCII and simple shapes like stars or lightning bolts, perhaps interspersed with actual writing, may suggest language just beyond politeness. More inventive and mixed symbols hint at more vocal and profane yelling. If a speech bubble contains a vivid constellation of complex, large and detailed shapes, then it's assumed that a truly impressive bout of obscenities is being censored.

Fun fact: The technical terms for such a stream of symbols is "grawlix", a term coined by the cartoonist Mort Walker in ''The Lexicon of Comicana", or "profanitype". Walker also identifies a number of distinct types of this based on specific symbols, such as "jarns" (curved or angled spirals), "quimps" (astronomical objects like moons and planets), "nittles" (stars and asterisks) and true grawlixes (nonsense scribbles).


More common in recent times is the use of asterisks instead of random symbols, a case of T-Word Euphemism at work. See Sound-Effect Bleep for the audio version, Angrish for gibberish words used in place of swearing, and Narrative Profanity Filter for other ways of creatively conveying foul language.

A subtrope of Pictorial Speech-Bubble. See also SelfDemonstrating.Symbol Swearing.

@#$& Examples

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    £§€$ 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"
  • An infamous advertisement for the Dragon 32 computer began this way:
    You: "Darling, I've decided to buy a computer."
    Her: "**++**??!!***@XX??££**??!!? off!"

    &#"$ Animation 
  • Upin & Ipin: Captain Jarjit's attempt at speaking "Pulu Pulu" results in subtitles that is composed entirely of symbols and appalles those who understand it, although Jarjit doesn't actually know what he said.

    &*#*@ Anime & Manga 
  • Boys Run the Riot: When Itsuka comes back to Ryo and Jin to apologize for what he said to them, Ryo has more than a few choice words for him.
    Ryo: Guys like you are @#$% @#$?! @#$!@... and @#%$! &%$# #*@$# #%@$!..
    Jin: Watari... Hey, calm that potty mouth, dude.
  • 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 Catchphrase. "Yare yare da ze" becomes "Gimme a $*&% break".
  • Sgt. Frog: In one chapter, 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 Joey. 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.
  • Love Hina: Shinobu, as part of a plan concocted by Su and Mitsune, pretends to have drowned to get Keitaro to perform CPR on her, also functioning as a kind of Indirect Kiss. Shinobu's nerves get the better of her, and she ends up flailing, her foot catching Keitaro right between the legs. Cue two speech balloons filled with this trope.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi Chachamaru uses a form of Wingding font during her Immodest Orgasm the first time she is wound up by Negi.
  • In chapter 436 of One Piece during the Post Enies Lobby Arc, when Sanji is complaining about having been given a bounty poster featuring a very poorly-drawn sketch of him instead of a photo, Zoro remarks that the poster looks just like him. This upsets Sanji so much that he's reduced to symbol swearing.
    Zoro: Use real words. I don't get what you're saying.
  • This happens in Gunsmith Cats when Bean's extremely heavy (and heavily armored) jacket falls on — and breaks — Misty's foot.
  • Yamada And The Seven Witches: Shobami swears like this when she wants to exemplify the anger of the students.

    %$@# Comedy 

    #$%* Comic Books 
  • Asterix:
    • The comic uses nasty-looking rebus symbols to represent "ancient Gaulish swear-words." It's in fact very common in old comedic Franco-Belgian comics. The letterers tend to get creative and include Chinese ideograms, swastikas and drawings of volcanoes, explosions and skulls, or even WWI-Germany helmeted skulls blowing nuclear explosion mushrooms out of their orbital fenestrae.
    • Variant symbols are used for speakers of different nationalities, which is especially visible in one book where Asterix joins the Roman army (It Makes Sense in Context). Since this is a polyglot legion of barbarians, there is a translator. At one point, the centurion is hit by a flying breastplate (no, not that variety) and curses in pain. The interpreter explains to a Goth what the centurion has just said. The centurion then asks what he just told the Goth, and the translator repeats the commander's cursing back to him. Specifically, the centurion says "skull-n-crossbones, spiral, heavy cross, ampersand". This gets "translated" into Gothic as "skull in a pickelhaube, squared-off spiral, swastika, Gothic-font ampersand".
    • There's a moment where an Egyptian character in the background of a panel is swearing at another in hieroglyph-like drawings of an angry foot kicking someone in the behind, snakes and waving swords.
    • Even earlier in Asterix and the Goths, when the druid is captured and starts swearing this way (the footnote explains that these are ancient Gaulish swear words which they refuse to translate). The Goths runs into an Obstructive Bureaucrat and start swearing, and we get the vaguely-Germanic font symbols, with the footnote giving their translation: the same still-untranslated Gaul symbols.
  • Batman: Black and White:
    • The robbers in "The Heist".
      Bernie: What'd that little &@$!#*% say?! What the #$@& is he shooting at?!!
    • "Batsman: Swarming Scourge of the Underworld" ends with Batsman fleeing with a shout of "Get the #&(%@! away from me!!" after his latest attempt at solitary brooding gets interrupted once again.
    • In "Greetings from... Gotham City", a thief shouts "Aw, fer [string of grawlixes]'s sake!" when Batman catches up to his getaway vehicle.
    • In "Blackout", Catwoman shouts "@*#! %*!!" when Batman captures her.
  • In Supergirl stories:
  • Tintin: Captain Haddock, who swears like... well, a sailor, is more of a subversion: While he does sometimes employ symbol swearing, he also has a very rich Goshdang It To Heck vocabulary (which was compiled into a dictionary).
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Donald Duck tends to use this in his comics. It actually makes sense, when you realize in the cartoons you can't understand a thing he says in an angry rage. The image is from Don Rosa's comic The Magnificent Seven (Minus Four) Caballeros Ride Again.
  • Nextwave uses skull and crossbone symbols. This has spread across the Marvel Universe lately. One Nextwave character was named "Captain ☠☠☠☠", until Captain America washed his mouth out with soap.
    • Even though Nextwave is a decade old, there's still a remarkable consistency in the use of ☠☠☠☠ swearing. It pretty much only appears in comics that aspire to match Nextwave's particular strain of insane comedy or that are directly referencing the series.
    • Nextwave starred Machine Man. When he became a supporting character in Tony Stark: Iron Man over a decade after Nextwave ended, his foul language was censored with "☠☠☠☠" whereas all the other characters would stick to the standard grawlix (#$%&).
  • Pretty much the current record-holder for duration; Wolverine in Astonishing X-Men #6:
    "Diplomatic #%@*&%!!@#$@%#%$##@@#$$%$#@#$$#%$#@#$%#%@$#$@$&&&%&@&$#%$##%&&&@&!! immunity?"
  • Ultimate Spider-Man has the time a "Freaky Friday" Flip between Spidey and Wolverine turns out to be the result of Jean putting Wolverine's mind "where it least wanted to be" when she was pissed at him. Apparently, nothing in his Dark and Troubled Past compares to high school. After it's all over:
    Spider-Man: You know why people hate you? It's not because you're mutants!! It's because you're all a bunch of @#$@#$ $@$%@ ##@$!! That's why!! You $^$%^ $%^$ $^$%^ $%#^% #$ $% ^#$%^ $%%^!!! AAAGGHHH! [swings off]
    Colossus: Why am I an #$@#$@? I was just standing here.
  • In Angloman, Poutinette's swears are represented by small pictures of items from the Catholic liturgy. French-Canadian swearing is famously replete with church-related words.
  • You might be surprised but it happens all the time in the original The Smurfs comics by Peyo. Yep, the comic overall was much less childlike than its Animated Adaptation. It was even played with in one one-page gag story, where a random Smurf hits his foot with a hammer and begins Symbol Swearing up a storm until Papa Smurf tells him to wash his mouth out with soap. In the last panel, when the Smurf speaks again, his word balloon is completely clean, but now soap bubbles containing swear symbols are floating all around him. On the other hand, bad words were never "smurfed out", except on one notable occasion in King Smurf referencing General Cambronne's last stand.
  • Subverted during the Giffen/DeMatteis run on Justice League, when Guy Gardner, in a fit of pique after accidentally destroying an alien ship that the US government wanted retrieved in one piece, starts swearing. Instead of a bunch of symbols, his angry speech balloon contains a single asterisk, leading to a footnote at the bottom of the frame reading, "Expletives (lots of 'em) deleted."
  • Zodon in PS238 does this during his first appearance. At the end of it, he's stopped because he gets a microchip implanted in his brain that censors his swearing by replacing the swears with random, non-offensive, words. Especially intense swearing gets replaced with showtunes.
  • In the Dean Koontz graphic novel Odd Is on Our Side, Odd Thomas pulls a little girl from the path of a speeding car and the startled driver exclaims "!@#$%!" Odd narrates, "I really despise potty mouths who speak in symbols."
  • In Knight and 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 Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Scourge the Hedgehog (formerly known as 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.
  • Top 10:
    • An interesting example: Alan Moore has no trouble using actual curse words, but in Top 10, a scene has Smax asking permission to use lethal force on a suspect who just killed a fellow cop. 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 Medium: since Top 10 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 occasionally used in The Beano and The Dandy to express a character's anger and they can't show swear words because those two comics are for children.
  • Iznogoud:
    • A story had Iznogoud asking Wa'at Alahf for a rope, when he was down a cliff. Wa'at 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 Wa'at who thought Iznogoud was asking for them.
    • In "The Jigsaw Turk", Iznogoud inadvertently gives an entrepreneur the idea to set up a beach resort in the middle of the desert where he is trying to put together a 10,000 piece jigsaw, and soon the area is as packed as the beaches of the Côte d'Azur during peak holiday season. When one boy's wayward beach ball bounces off another man's stomach, the boy's father gets involved, and we get this gem:
      Boy: [cheerfully] He says #@%!
      Boy's Father: [backhanding his son] WASH YOUR MOUTH, YOU!
  • ABCDEF. Yes, the one and only Gotlib brilliantly inverted the trope in the fight between Superdupont and Bruce Lee. When they swear at each other, Superdupont uses a lot of grawlix and chinese characters, and Bruce Lee answers with the same grawlix (looking a bit more Chinese, font-wise), and instead of the chinese characters, "ABCDEF". Epic meta.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer uses this in the comics. A lot. There's even comics called "I think they're F#@%ing" and Them *&^%ing. It's Buffy and Angel. Guess what they do.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW): In issue #2, once the Mane Six have been set against each other, one panel shows them all shouting at each other, punctuated with a single fancy exclamation point with a dagger set in, which may or may not be this trope, depending on your interpretation.
    • In Celestia's Micro Series issue, a ponified Gordon Ramsay appears in the background of three different panels, and he's brought his infamously foul mouth with him, symbol swearing in all three panels.
  • Archie Comics' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures has a character named Juntarra, who does this more or less every time she opens her mouth.
  • Also present in the Richie Rich comic books, particularly in the story where Mrs. Rich had set up a Swear Jar for her family. For the most part, only Mr. and Mrs. Rich did Symbol Swearing in that story.
  • Parodied in The Bojeffries Saga, in which we hear about a minor punk character who has "*** OFF" tattooed on her forehead. Then we see her, and she literally has "*** OFF" tattooed on her forehead, with the asterisks.
  • While Alias was a MAX imprint (meaning strong language was okay), The Pulse was not, and writer Brian Michael Bendis had to tone down the at-times foul-mouthed Jessica's dialogue accordingly.
  • Kaine is particularly prone to this, being Spidey's self-described "evil clone", with the temper to match, and being a very Reluctant Hero.
  • Spider-Gwen is very prone to this in her book.
  • Dinocorps has Dirk swearing at Carl after he says that the Saurons waking up is bad.
    Dirk: Bad?! You S#A*! humans!
  • Amanda Conner's sketchbook is called "Book of $#!* You May Have Never Seen!". (Sidenote: The $#!* cover features Vampirella sitting on the loo - so it's rather obvious here which word $#!* denotes.)
  • The Swedish comic 91:an Karlsson uses this all the time. However, it tends to get pretty colorful with the symbols with some almost coming off as more risque than most swears.
  • One of Donna Barr's (Stinz, The Desert Peach) comics had a vigorous bout of swearing denoted by a speech balloon containing a devil Flipping the Bird with both hands.
  • This is used in The Mask instead of actual cursing.
  • Many different characters in Pitt swears like this.
  • A major secondary character in Empowered is the telepath superheroine Mind████, whose name is always rendered that way.
  • Laura Kinney is decidedly more animated in All-New Wolverine, and decidedly more mouthy too, dropping a f bomb at least once per story arc that's censored this way. Other characters get in on the act as well.
  • In Venom (Donny Cates), Eddie's younger half-brother, Dylan, has a habit of cursing when surprised or feeling daring. Of course, it gets censored like this.
    Dylan: [after Venom busts the door down] Dad?! Are you— Holy @#$%! Is that #$%@#$% Venom?!
  • Welcome to the Jungle: Harry's narration is rather displeased when he realizes that he's not only facing a hag, but a coven of them;
    "Three of them. I'm *@&$ed."
  • Wonder Woman Vol 3: When facing down a Khund warrior, Lt. Etta Candy sarcastically muttered a more explicit version of her old Catchphrase; "Woo &^%$ing woo!"
  • In Zion, in his mad dash to not be later to work than he already is, Desta takes part in some of this.
  • The Simpsons: In "rich palms no deposit bonus codesr Vs the Wallpaper," rich palms no deposit bonus codesr's growing frustration at wallpapering Maggie's room makes him start swearing left and right, with his swears written as symbols. At one point he "runs out" of swear words and starts reading Chinese curses out of a book Bart gives him, which are written with actual Chinese symbols.
  • Calamity Jane in Lucky Luke is probably even less a lady than her Real Life counterpart. The first impression you get of her is a speech bubble filled with grawlixes — and it doesn't stay the only one of its kind.

    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."
  • Zits:
    • 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].
  • The Boondocks Huey Freeman uses symbol swearing from time to time in one of the most controversial political comic strips.
  • Speaking of Beetle Bailey, Sarge does this all the time:
    • 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". Sarge is a little upset, as he thought # was an old classic).
    • Inverted a few times: Once a flower is included in Sarge's tirade, because he "promised the chaplain he'd say something nice today". He's also been known to revert entirely to "nice" symbols when a superior is nearby, on one occasion signifying actual nice speech and on another still sounding awful because of the way he says it.
    • 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.
      Beetle: This will teach you to play poker with the chaplain while Sgt. Webbing is on the golf course TRAINING!
    • 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: a Mess Hall sign with "closed" pasted over it, the shark from Jaws, a Mushroom Cloud, a tombstone with Fuzz's name on it, and even Dracula. The end result of it all? Lt. Fuzz's Good Conduct Medal had MELTED.
    • Sarge and Louise Lugg have been spotted filling a crossword puzzle with strings of swearing symbols instead of letters. "What's a five-letter word starting with #?"
  • 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?").
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is playing Scrabble with Hobbes when he says "2 points?! Is that @*#% all??" and Hobbes replies "My, this game does teach new words!"
    • Another strip has Clavin's father using a series of symbols of increasing magnitude when he's trying to light a fire; they start as black scribbles, and culminate in a mushroom cloud, skull and crossbones, and a cloud with a lightning bolt coming out of it.
  • For Better Or Worse uses symbol swearing from time to time. Michael, April uses swearing symbols from time to time. Elly Patterson disapproves swearing in her household.
  • 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 aggressive 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.
  • 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).
    Goat: "Little Bo Peep has lost her sheet."
  • Watch Your Head does this a lot.
  • Garfield:
    • 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.
  • In one of Father Justin McCarthy's Brother Juniper comics the title character is out on the golf course with a fellow monk. When he misses a putt the parrot sitting on his shoulder says "**#X#!XXX**!"
  • Bloom County from its 2015 revival onward has Steve Dallas and cast doing Emoji Swearing. The original strip also featured this frequently.
  • In one Baby Blues strip, this happens when Hammie curses after breaking a toy plane.
  • In Malaysian 4-strip comic series Lawak Kampus (or known as Kuso High School), this even happens several times when someone swearing.
  • Retail has made use of this as well when characters swear. The nadir of this would have to be in this strip, when Marla blows up at Stuart for accusing her of using her upcoming maternity leave as an excuse to get out of work.
    Comment on the strip: That is the most grawlices I have ever seen in a single speech balloon.

    Fan &!*@ Works 

    *+!@% Films — Animation 

    $*@^ Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in Hot Fuzz, when we see the "swear box", it has a sign on it showing the price for each swear word. All the words have at least one letter changed to a symbol, except for "cunt", the highest priced word, which is left unaltered.
  • Used in 1927 silent film The Cat and the Canary, when aunt Susan finds Paul hiding under her bed.
  • What the #$*! 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.' I said 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 
  • In Alex Rider: Scorpia Rising, Alex tells Lewinsky, his accidental abductor, to "go and ——- yourself". (The audiobook uses a Sound-Effect Bleep.)
  • Discworld:
    • Mentioned 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.
    • Mr. Tulip in The Truth says "-ing". A -ing lot, like -ing nearly every other -ing word. Due to the prevalence of this trope, most readers will assume that's what's going on. Later in the book, another character hangs a lampshade on this: "Why does that man keep saying 'ing'?"
    • In Mort, the title character vanishes just before being stabbed. His attackers assume him a wizard, and one remarks: "I hate ——ing wizards", to which his companion replies, "Well, you shouldn't —— them then."
    • The most concrete example is in Reaper Man, where an excess of life force is causing all sorts of things to come to life — including wizards' swearwords being manifested as little creatures.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: When done in the series, characters have a speech bubble filled with random symbols.
  • Also used 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.
  • In the Freaky Friday sequel A Billion for Boris, a character of Chinese heritage strikes right where this trope intersects with the Narrative Profanity Filter:
    "#%*'@+!" he said darkly, in inscrutable Mandarin.
  • In Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes, Goldilocks swears when she breaks the chair:
    She uses one disgusting word
    Which luckily you've never heard.
    (I dare not write it, even hint it.
    Nobody would ever print it.)
  • An outtake from the Tough Magic trilogy includes a very long line of symbol swearing. Apparently the characters were getting it out of the system, as the Author had forbade swearing in the book itself.
  • In Good Omens, the Buggre Alle Thys Bible is a fictional "infamous Bible" in which Ezekiel 38:5 was replaced by an angry typesetter's rant about his job and his employers, followed by a string of random typographical symbols.
  • Used in the first Blue Avenger book for a comic-book feel, up until the English class where they discuss the word 'shit'.
  • Former baseball umpire Ron Luciano used symbols to replace cusswords in his books The Umpire Strikes Back and Strike Two.
  • Roys Bedoys: When Roys swears in “Don’t Say Bad Words, Roys Bedoys!”, his swearing is subtitled with grawlixes.

    Live-Action %^&* TV 
  • The Daily Show's "Ten F#@king Years" and "Clusterf#@k to the White House" (now "Poorhouse") graphics rotate the # and @ in such a way that they are briefly readable as the U and C they represent.
  • One MythBusters test requires on-camera swearing. Since digitally blurring out their lips (to counter lipreading) gets expensive, Adam builds a mouth shield with grawlix neatly lettered onto it.
  • In Heroes, Hiro's reaction to discovering that he's in medieval Japan is subtitled "@#$%!"
  • The TV series $#!+ My Dad Says, based on a Twitter feed titled Shit My Dad Says.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Once Upon a Time", when Officer Flannagan chastises Woodrow Mulligan for walking in the street and nearly being hit by a horse and carriage, the first word in the intertitle is represented by a star, an exclamation mark, an asterisk and a lightning bolt.

    %#*€! Magazines 
  • The old gaming rag Game Players was especially fond of using "@$$" as a substitute for "the 'ass' word."
  • MAD:
    • In the 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.
    • Their parody of Risky Business had the Tom Cruise line "Sometimes you gotta say 'What the Fuck'." with the last word hidden under symbols. Another character then complains that he can't take that philosophy because he can't speak in symbols.

    !&#@$ Music 
  • Aesop Rock's "Fizz", off of Garbology, mentions this trope:
    Thought bubble generally jam-packed with dollar sign, exclamation point, ampersand, hash!
  • 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 from Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album, 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 !✱¢#!".
  • "F*!#in' Up" by Neil Young.

    *@£# Newspapers 
  • 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.

    !%£@?&# Pinballs 

    Tabletop *?*#^ Games 

    &+$# Video Games 
  • In ANNO: Mutationem, Castor and Melissa are left stranded in the middle of a desert after the former's portal malfunctioned. Castor, outraged at realizing C's betrayal, rants angrily as his words are written in random symbols.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Giant Fist: In the casino minigame, you can gamble the money earned in-game playing High Low while Crown and Fool heckle you. Usually they'll egg you on and humiliate you if you lose. But if you win, one possible line is Crown being reduced to a verbal keyboard-mash of unpronounceable symbols.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police:
    • Referenced in Sam & Max Hit the Road, in a conversation with a foul-mouthed psychic who gets his words bleeped out, which leads to the following exchange:
      Sam: Percent sign ampersand dollar sign.
      Max: And colon semicolon too!
      Psychic: What are you @!#$ 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.
  • Q*bert's gibberish Catchphrase "@!#?@!". Heck, it was originally going to be his game's name! In Wreck-It Ralph, it's portrayed as a language known as Q-Bertese that causes speech balloons to appear whenever you speak it.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
  • In Brütal Legend, if you have Closed Captions turned on and Swearing turned off all curse words in the Subtitles will be replaced with symbols.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day uses comic-style speech balloons instead of subtitles, so fittingly they use these to represent the bleeped obscenities. Legend has it that they were color-coded as to the exact word being replaced, as well.
  • Doom:
    • Obtaining the Unmaker in Doom 64 will display the message "What the !@#%* is this!"
    • The game mocks the player if they do not reset after dying. One of the messages is "YOU LAZY @&$#!"
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy VI a man in the town Narshe says "Narshe is a neutral city. We want no war here. But that #@%!* empire won't listen."
    • This is one of the things that a lot of people remember Final Fantasy VII for. Usually it's Cid unleashing the grawlixes, but Barret was also prone (and Cloud uses it in one instance). In one case (when confronting Don Corneo in Wutai), Barret announces a string of symbols longer than any actual swear words. This was not a game that was otherwise entirely clean - the word 'shit' is used several times uncensored. Although in the PC version, it's censored this way as well.
  • In the rich palms no deposit bonus codesstar Runner game Kid Speedy, the hero, is slowed down by a variety of junk foods... and swears, shown as "@!?#!". The King of Town, who is a reverse of the hero, gains speed from these items. Yes, even the swears.
  • In Moon: Remix RPG Adventure, if you try to enter a swear word as the player's name, the game censors it with a bunch of "X" symbols.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist and the Broken Angel, most of Ed's swearing is left in except for one instance where Armony falls on him. Ed demands an apology and when Armony decides to be a smartass about it, Ed is not amused.
    Ed: #@$%&!! Where are YOUR manners!?!? Is that the attitude you cop after using someone's back as a #@$&ing trampoline!?
  • One of the most famous moments in the American dub of Golden Sun: Dark Dawn is Matthew breaking out the grawlix for a Precision F-Strike in the final dungeon when Alex shows up. Presumably a Woolseyism, as it's absent in both the Japanese version and the European version.
  • In the Sierra PC game of Laura Bow, if Laura Bow eavesdrops on Clarence Sparrow and Dr. Wilbur. Clarence says to Wilbur "It would've worked out Wilbur. It wasn't our fault that {$#@** horse broke his leg!"
  • 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.
  • The World of Warcraft ovo188 have a censor button; 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 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 $#!+". Hardly ambiguous what he was yelling.
  • Chip in Sonic Unleashed speaks this way if fed a canned horror, which is quite jarring considering that he's Light Gaia, the representation of all things pure and good. Hilariously lampshaded by this image.
  • In Rogue Legacy characters "born" with Tourette's Syndrome let out a string of these whenever they get hurt and as their death message.
  • The PETA parody Super Tanooki Skin 2D has this message pop up when you finally get your skin back from Mario:
  • From the Gamecube iteration of Custom Robo, at one point early in the game, while Harry is training the protagonist, their boss tries to call him, but is unable to get through because Harry has his phone off, so he calls the protagonist and yells at him to tell Harry to call him back. After Harry is told this and does so, the boss' text box consists nothing of symbols, with the texting's volume turned up to show how angry he is.
  • In The World Ends with You, this occurs in the third week when Beat encounters a wall to the Station Underpass, his intended destination. This is the only instance of symbol swearing in the game, and the rest of the game's swears are uncensored.
  • "A Fate Worse Than Chess" comic from Team Fortress 2 has Saxton Hale give out "I am going to fight that @#$%ing monkey."
  • Splatoon 2: In a chat log in the "Octo Expansion", Marina and Pearl talk about the latter's music career prior to the two meeting and forming Off the Hook. Marina reveals that she even has one of Pearl's old thrash-metal songs, which is called "#$@%* Dudes Be #$@%* Sleepin'". The song itself even has a prolonged Sound-Effect Bleep when you play it.
  • The helicopter in Just Shapes & Beats swears this way when the corruption machine grabs the sad blue square, and again when your rescue of the sad blue square sets off the alarms.
  • Deltarune:
    • Letting Susie pick the team name results in your team being named "The ?&!! Squad". Ralsei objects heavily, and Lancer refuses to say the name as he's not allowed to use tier 2 swears. It sticks, and later becomes "The Dark ?&!! Squad".
    • Spamton from Chapter 2 sometimes spews these out, as his Electronic Speech Impediment simply won't let him swear properly.
    • One of Queen's attacks is to start a Flame War on a social media feed, forcing you do dodge the swears the posters send at each other.
  • In The Sims 4, Sims that "shout forbidden words" have symbols fly out of their head.
  • The Dead Mines: At one point the player character finds a ***-filled note about somebody setting off a mining charge in the middle of a (now-collapsed) tunnel.
  • BitLife: If someone attacks you with a weapon (or rarely, attacking you with a weapon but missed), sometimes, you’ll encounter a box with the caption reading “Holy S#@!”
  • Ninja Clowns: Twisto engages in some at the end of the game after being locked up in prison.
  • PewDiePie's Pixelings: Floorgang, a Limited Time Pixeling, uses this during their regular attack, although it's not very strong.
  • This is one of the "Emote" code options in Microsoft's Kodu.
  • In the first Overcooked!, you have a "swear button" that causes a stream of symbols to come from your mouth while angry-sounding Simlish plays. In the second game, however, it's replaced with an "emote" button, with the swearing absent.

    Web *~@^# Animation 
  • One of Sceb's mailbag cartoons on Fred The Monkey has a fan threatening to "@$%#^ THE #%^&!@ OUT OF YOU!!!!" Sceb pronounces this as "symbol the symbols out of you."
  • Button's Adventures: After Button's mother grounds him, he swears in his invented language Humgonian, and the English subtitles provided just give us some random symbols.
  • One episode of The Misadventures of R2 and Miku uses this in the subtitles as R2 gets grievously injured. (Since he communicates solely in blips and bleeps, exactly like Star Wars, this is the only indication he's swearing at all.)
  • T E T R I S ' D: The hero says "@!#$" in a speech bubble seeing they have to avoid tetris blocks again in 3.

    Web *?#~! Comics 

    Web *+%$ Original 
  • Occasionally seen online: $#!+.
    • Which dates at least to Jet Set Willy II on the ZX Spectrum (the very last screen is called Oh $#!+! The Central Cavern, a backreference to the earlier Manic Miner).
    • The Totally Radical brain injury prevention site U Got Brains uses this for the title of one of its sections, "Can't Make This S#!* Up", presumably to enhance its image. The title as seen on the actual page is written in a graffiti-style that tries to make it look as close to its obscene counterpart as possible. (Interestingly, a different set of symbols are used before you mouse over the link, including the biohazard symbol.)
  • This may crop up in surprising places due to automatic profanity filters, such as when discussing Philip K. D!ck on Delphi discussion boards. (If you just write it outright, it becomes Philip K. ####.)
  • The filters themselves may replace the words with these symbols. The Steam forums replace swears with rows of pink hearts. This has been parodied from time to time, such as a homemade Team Fortress 2 map that featured a sign reading "ATTACK THAT ♥♥♥♥ING FORT", and a forum post where "Meet the Demoman" was quoted thus:
    "I'm a black, Scottish cyclops. They got more ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ than they got the likes o' me." (NOTE: The hearts correspond to a lengthy Sound-Effect Bleep at the exact same spot in the movie.)
  • Lampshaded in a Protectors of the Plot Continuum mission where an Agent actually pronounces grawlix.
  • An actual, useful new search engine for programmers, SymbolHound, plays with this: it has the Tag Line, "for finding @%$^#&! 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 *$(%ing support for that.
  • Whateley Universe: In The Three Little Witches when the Three Little Witches are being chased by the Whitman girls:
    "Come BACK here, you little @&&#*!$!" rang about through the night, shattering the quiet around Whitman Cottage.
    "Slow down you little $#!*&@%$!" screeched the girl with the silver blaze in her black hair.

    *&^%$! Western Animation 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Grawlix


Conker's Bad Fur Day

Only the F-word is replaced with a bleep and symbols.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / SymbolSwearing

Media sources: