From unprintable curse word to cuddly children's toy — that has been the voyage charted by an imaginary beast invented by Chinese Internet users to poke fun at a new nationwide crackdown against online content deemed vulgar.

The saga of the "Grass Mud Horse" is in fact one of the many puns in which the Chinese language is so rich.

It began at the start of the year when China's cyberpolice launched a campaign to cleanse pornographic and other content regarded as unseemly from sites viewed by the world’s largest online population.

What began as an entertaining by-product of that Internet clean-up has become a sensation. This is because "Grass Mud Horse" in Chinese is a homonym for an unprintable but widely used phrase.

Both the phrase — "F*** your mother" — and the name of the mythical animal are pronounced as "caonima," although using different tones.

The identity of the creator of the Grass Mud Horse remains a mystery, but he — or she — has sparked a mini-industry.

The tale now goes that in the desert of "Male Gebi" — a homonym for yet another unprintable curse that means "Mother's Private Parts" — lives a herd of special alpaca-like animals known as the Grass Mud Horse.

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