Archive for the ‘Obscenicons’ Category

Word art

June 3, 2014

Now at the Jewish Museum in New York (through September 21st), an exhibition of Mel Bochner‘s recent conceptual art. From the NYT on May 2nd, in “Secret Power of Synonyms: Mel Bochner Turns Up the Volume in ‘Strong Language’ ” by Ken Johnson:

Words have been the subjects and primary constituents of the enigmatic yet acerbically provocative paintings Mel Bochner has been creating over the past 12 years. “Mel Bochner: Strong Language,” an elegantly produced exhibition at the Jewish Museum, gives them their due and traces their roots back to text-based works that Mr. Bochner created in the ’60s and early ’70s, when he was one of New York’s pre-eminent Conceptual artists.


Three for Thursday

March 13, 2014

Three cartoons this morning: a notably weird Zippy about comics, a Dilbert on search terms, and a Zits on passwords (and obscenicons):


Three cartoons for Saturday

March 8, 2014

Maybe I’m just easily amused today, but three cartoons caught my eye: a Zippy, a Rhymes With Orange, and a Pearls Before Swine:





The cat in the $!☆#ing hat

October 17, 2013

A Bent Pinky cartoon by Scott Metzger, sent to me by Tom Limoncelli:


A play on The Cat in the Hat, with the nice final rhyme:

… a cake and a cup / … shut the fuck up!

(but with fuck disguised by obscenicons).


Job description

September 23, 2013

Yesterday’s Dilbert:

The pointy-headed boss clearly has no clue about what Dilbert is talking about (which is an actual issue in programming), and Dilbert responds with an (implicit) blunt criticism of managers who don’t understand what the people they manage do.

Punnies #21

February 19, 2012

Today’s Bizarro, with more puns:

The second pun turns on word division (compare ice cream vs. I scream), with the extra twist that the indefinite article a(n) is usually attached to the following word and pronounced as a unit with it — so than the [n] of an is usually syllabified with the following word, making an ice and a nice phonetically identical.

The third plays on the convention of using obscenicons to represent swearwords.

Of course, all three depend on cultural knowledge: among other things, that Brussels is in Belgium, that Brussels sprouts are a vegetable, that the man in the first panel is planting something, and that the scene and his costume suggest Belgium (what makes it preposterous is that he’s planting pig snouts); that the costumes and dwellings in the second panel are appropriate for Eskimos and that Eskimos live in cold, snowy climates; and that Men’s Wearhouse (itself a pun) is the name of a men’s clothing store.

Bad language school

December 1, 2011

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

Effluency, a portmanteau of effluent and fluency, is a nice touch (NOAD2 on effluent: ‘liquid waste or sewage discharched into a river or the sea’) — a genuinely dirty word. Oh, @*#☆! indeed.


Two political cartoons

January 18, 2011

The New York Times doesn’t do editorial cartoons, but on Sundays, it reproduces a collection of them from other papers. Two from this Sunday (January 16): one, by Patrick Chappatte in the International Herald Tribune, alluding (alarmingly) to the Tucson shootings; and the other, by John Cole in the Scranton Times Tribune, with playful taboo avoidance, alluding to provocative political rhetoric.


Two obscenicon cartoons

October 13, 2010

Obscenicons began as a device in the comics, and cartoons return to them again and again in an assortment of meta-referential ways, using them not merely for ostentatious concealment of taboo vocabulary, but also in play about them. Two recent examples, from Zits and Bizarro:

Jeremy’s cursing is conveyed by some standard obscenicons, plus an assortment of dire symbols, thus harking back to the early days of obscenicons in the comics, before they became largely conventionalized.

(Note the use of adult here, as in adult movies and adult book store.)

Then we have the conceit that the whole spoken taboo word is represented by a sequence of obscenicons (@*%&!), but can be broken down into its separate glyphs, just as, say, SHIT represents a spoken word and also a sequence of letters.


The obscenicons vs. the grawlixes

August 1, 2010

Comment from “Nosey” on my “Country obscenicons” posting:

August 1, 2010
While “obscenicons” is also correct, the more-widely-used term for these is “grawlixes” (which also happens to be my favorite child-friendly profanity).

Obscenicon is a portmanteau of obscenity and icon ‘symbol’, introduced by Ben Zimmer in 2006 in “Obscenicons in the workplace” (here) as an improvement on cursing character. It was invented as a technical term in linguistics — well, that tiny part of linguistics that concerns itself with devices for taboo avoidance in print.

“Nosey” notes, correctly, that uses of grawlix — a light-hearted technical term (apparently a “blurb word”, a word — like blurb — entirely invented, rather than built on existing words) in cartoonists’ jargon — exceed (by several orders of magnitude, in fact) uses of obscenicon. “Nosey” allows for obscenicon as a correct usage, but by citing the difference in frequency of use, hints that grawlix is more correct and gently suggests implicitly that it would have been better for me to use grawlix.

I’ve taken this tour before, a couple of years ago, and while I have nothing against the grawlix route, I still prefer to go the obscenicon way. (more…)


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