Grawlix is an unusual word that most people haven’t heard of, although they’ve probably seen grawlixes many times before.
A grawlix is a combination of symbols— most commonly the ones above the numbers on the keyboard— used in place of a offensive language in comics, cartoons and illustrations. It works as a visual, rather than verbal, euphemism.
The term was coined in the 60s by Mort Walker , the creator of the comic strip Beetle Bailey, although the practice had already been in use long before it was given a name.The grawlix is a clever and very effective way to express emotions like anger or frustration without actually offending anyone or causing problems with editors and censors.
An alternative term that has been suggested is the obscenicon, which is very clever but doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of traction. Time will tell, as it always does when it comes to words and language.
Somehow, grawlix just sounds more evocative and kind of sweary in itself.
Tmesis— pronounced teh-MEE-sis— is an unusual word that many people will never have heard of, even though it’s the name for something we do frequently and quite naturally.
Tmesis is the name given to that linguistic behaviour by which we divide a word and insert another word into the middle. In the 21st century, the inserted word is often a swear word, but it doesn’t have to be.
We do it to add emphasis and increase the strength of what we’re saying.
The Ancient Greek word temnein meant ‘to cut’, and from that came the word tmesis, which meant ‘cutting’. It refers to the cutting or division of the first word in order to insert the second.
The practice is centuries old. There are examples of it in Old Irish and Scandinavian poetry, although the earliest written examples of it being used in English only date back to the 1500s.
Shakespeare used tmesis in a number of his plays:
“This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.” — Romeo and Juliet
“How heinous ever it be” — Richard II
“That man – how dearly ever parted.” — Troilus and Cressida
Tmesis also exists in the poetry of John Donne:
“In what torn ship soever I embark, That ship shall be my emblem, What seas soever swallow me, that flood Shall be to me an emblem of thy blood.” — Hymn to Christ
From these examples, it is clear that the device has always been used to strengthen the idea or emotion being communicated, which is exactly how it’s still used today.
In Australia, where we seem to love a good swear word and the power it gives our expressions, tmesis is so common that it seems to me to be part of our linguistic identity. Inserting a term such as ‘flaming” or ‘flipping’, or one’s preferred swear word, into words and phrases is a standard part of our speech. From “abso-flaming-lutely’ to “no freaking way!”, Australians have made tmesis their own without ever knowing that it was a literary device or that it has a name.
Why is it so satisfying to see horrible people get what’s coming to them?
Poetic justice is the idea that someone will get, or has got, what they deserve as a consequence of their behaviour. It can be either a reward or a punishment, and these are sometimes thought of as two sides of the same coin: a perpetrator will suffer while their victim has the satisfaction of seeing that justice has been served.
It is similar to the concept of karma, by which one’s intent and actions have a direct effect on their future and wellbeing.
Another related idea is divine retribution: a divine being or the universe itself punishing someone for their actions.
Of course, these concepts are highly subjective. What someone deserves or not depends on one’s perspective. If person A has suffered as the result of Person B’s actions, then A is able to interpret B’s bad fortune as poetic justice or karma, while B might well consider that they are a victim and have reason to hope for their own vindication. Realistically, those two people may never join the same dots.
So why is the idea of poetic justice so appealing?
It can make someone going through a bad situation, or wearing the scars of previous suffering, feel that they are less alone. It can give them hope that and that someone or something somewhere might notice their situation and act in their favour. Ultimately, we would probably all want God or the universe or the supernatural or the powers that be to be on our side and rule in our favour.
The thought of someone having to pay or suffer for what they’ve done to us or to others we care about is powerful. It’s also relatable: as much as we decry revenge and know that it doesn’t solve anything, it’s still an attractive prospect— particularly if we haven’t had to actually do anything to make it happen.
Hoping for poetic justice, or karma, or divine retribution, can also function as a passive way of taking back some control from those who have hurt us. How many of us can honestly say that we haven’t thought “Well, he had THAT coming!” when something bad that has happened to a horrible person?
They are natural thoughts and feelings, and they need to be acknowledged and worked through.
Still, as understandable as those feelings may be, we cannot afford to unpack and live there, no matter how much some of us may want to. It’s not a healthy place to stay. We have to move on and find a way to prevent our feelings about someone else from controlling our behaviour and attitudes.
Perhaps that’s why seeing poetic justice delivered to fictional characters— or, indeed, to public figures who behave badly— is so satisfying. It may not be happening to our own nemesis, but at least it’s happening to someone else’s.
The Appeal of Poetic Justice #PoeticJustice #Karma #Retribution #satisfaction #observation #blogpost
Several of my books explore themes of poetic justice and seeing people who behave horribly punished for their actions in one way or another. They are available via jvlpoet.com/books and in all digital stores. Paperbacks are also widely available via Amazon and Book Depository.
I generally love a good thunderstorm. Tonight, I appreciate it even more than usual.
Growing up, I loved seeing Snoopy start his stories with “It was a dark and stormy night”. I used to giggle at that clichè long before I understood the deeper allusion to the fact that authors sometimes use the weather to reflect or foreshadow what characters in their stories feel or experience.
This is a literary device known as pathetic fallacy. It is used to set mood and tone in a piece of writing or art, emphasising emotions and heightening reactions. Rain can be used to reflect sorrow or misery, dark clouds can suggest anger or resentment, and a storm can suggest conflict, inner turmoil or violence.
If you’ve ever read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte, you will have experienced pathetic fallacy being used so expertly that you may not have even noticed. Blended seamlessly with gothic imagery, turbulent relationships and the isolation of the Yorkshire moors, Bronte’s use of snow, rain, storms, cold and dark makes for incredibly powerful writing. Who can forget Cathy at the window during that storm, begging Heathcliff to let her in? It’s legendary because it is powerful, emotive writing that embeds its imagery in the consciousness of the reader.
My other favourite example of pathetic fallacy is Shakespeare’s King Lear shouting at the snowstorm, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” Lear has literally been left out in the cold by his daughters Goneril and Regan, who have exploited his love and trust before throwing him out, homeless and broke. It’s such a potent scene — the depths of human coldness are amplified by the vision of a broken-hearted old man outside in a blizzard. It is chilling in more ways than one, and possibly one of Shakespeare’s finest scenes.
At other times, pathetic fallacy seems predictable and cliched. Sometimes it is almost painfully obvious and clunky. It often appears to be overused by authors who don’t have the finesse required to make it work — possibly because when authors do have that skill and it is done well, it it works as it is intended to without irritating the reader.
Tonight, nature is doing the author’s work for me. Outside, it is indeed a dark and stormy night. It has been raining steadily for hours now, thunder rolls and reverberates every now and then, and a draught of wind occasionally howls at the door. I am sitting in my father’s hospital room, having been called in late at night because he has been distressed and agitated. I have shed tears while talking with family members or sending messages. My emotions are all over the place. I’m both incredibly tired and wide awake.
A rainy night with the occasional rumble of thunder is most fitting.