Grawlix, Plewds, and Briffit: the Literary Language of Cartoons and Comic Strips

#plewds #grawlix #briffit #comics #comicstrips #words #languages #lexicon

Regular readers of Commonplace Fun Facts are well versed in the meaning and use of some very unusual words. Even the most learned lexicologist may stumble over words such as briffit, grawlix, and plewds. If you find yourself in that camp, fear not; you are about to get an education in the literary language of cartoons and comic strips.

Many artistic techniques are used in comic strips to show things such as speed, agitation, and expanded vocabulary. Among these are pictures and symbols that we see all the time. You have seen them and immediately know what they mean, but until now, you may not have known what they were called.

Cartoonist Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey, came up with names for these commonly-occurring elements. In his book, The Lexicon of Comicana, Walker gives words to the images we have taken for granted.

A character who is moving at a fast speed will frequently be seen leaving a dust cloud. This is known as a briffit.

If the person is hard at work or deeply agitated, triggering little drops of sweat, then that person has just emitted plewds.

When a character is thinking or saying things that aren’t fit for polite company, those words are substituted for keyboard symbols. These symbols are called grawlix.

Walker created a whole glossary to describe these comic strip phenomena. Copies of the book are rare, but the techniques he describes can be seen every day. Additional vocabulary of comic strip artists includes such gems as:

  • Agitrons: wiggly lines around a shaking object or character
  • Blurgits, swalloops: curved lines preceding or trailing after a character’s moving limbs
  • Dites: diagonal, straight lines drawn across flat, clear and reflective surfaces, such as windows and mirrors
  • Emanata: lines drawn around the head to indicate shock or surprise
  • Hites: horizontal straight lines trailing after something moving with great speed; or, drawn on something indicating reflectivity (puddle, glass, mirror)
  • Indotherm: wavy, rising lines used to represent steam or heat
  • Lucaflect: a shiny spot on a surface of something, depicted as a four-paned window shape
  • Quimps: planets resembling Saturn, used to replace obscenities
  • Solrads: radiating lines drawn from something luminous like a lightbulb or the sun
  • Squeans: little starbursts or circles that signify intoxication, dizziness, or sickness
  • Vites: vertical straight lines indicating reflectivity (compare dites, hites)

Read about more fun words to learn.

Read more fun facts about art.

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