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A lipogram (from Greek lipagrammatos, "missing letter") is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting of writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is omitted — usually a common vowel, the most common in English being "E". For example, a version of this paragraph without any "E" could be:

A lipogram (from Attic lipagrammatos, "missing symbol") is a kind of writing within constraints or wordplay consisting of writing paragraphs or books in which a particular symbol or group of symbols is missing — usually a common non-consonant, most commonly (in a South British lingo familiar to Milton) that symbol which is fifth in standard lists of Latin's script glyphs.
For illustration, a variant of this paragraph without that symbol could say:

Writing a lipogram is a trivial task for uncommon letters like "Z", "J", or "X", but it is much more difficult for common letters like "E", "T" or "A". Writing this way, the author must omit many ordinary words.Grammatically correct and smooth-flowing lipograms are fairly rare and difficult to write.

A pangrammatic lipogram or lipogrammatic pangram is a text that uses every letter of the alphabet except one, e.g. "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog", which omits "S."


One of the earliest and most remarkable examples of lipogram is Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadsby (1939), which has over 50,000 words but not a single letter "E". Wright's self-imposed rule excluded such common English words as "the" and "he", plurals in "-es", past tenses in "-ed", and even abbreviations like "Mr." (for "Mister") or "Bob" (for "Robert"). Yet the narration flows smoothly, and the book was praised by critics for its literary merits.

However, Wright was not the first lipogram writer. Indeed, he was motivated to write Gadsby by an earlier four-stanza lipogrammatic poem of another author.

Even earlier, spanish playwright Enrique Jardiel Poncela published five short stories between 1926 and 1927, each one omitting a vowel; the most well-known are "El Chofer Nuevo" ("The new Driver"), without the letter "A", and "Un marido sin vocación" ("A Vocationless Husband"), without the "E".

Interest in lipograms was rekindled by Georges Perec's novel La Disparition (1969), openly inspired on Wright's Gadsby, and its English translation A Void by Gilbert Adair. Both works are missing the letter "E", which is the most common letter in French as well as in English. A Spanish translation instead omits the letter A, the most common letter in that language. Perec subsequently wrote Les revenentes (1972), a novel that uses no vowels except for "E". Perec was a member of Oulipo, a group of French authors who adopted a variety of constraints in their work.

More examples

After Perec's work, many other authors have taken to write under these (or even stronger) constraints. To cite some examples:

  • In Walter Abish's novel Alphabetical Africa (1974) the first chapter consists solely of words beginning with "A". Chapter two also permits words beginning with "B" and so on, until at chapter 26, Abish allows himself to use words beginning with any letter at all. For the next 25 chapters, he reverses the process.

  • Gyles Brandreth re-wrote some of Shakespeare's works as lipograms: Hamlet without the letter "I" (e.g., "To be or not to be, that's the query"; Macbeth without "A" or "E"; Twelfth Night without "O" or "L"; Othello without "O". In 1985 he also wrote the following poem, where each stanza is a lipogrammatic pangram (using every letter of the alphabet except "E").

Bold Nassan quits his caravan,

A hazy mountain grot to scan;

Climbs jaggy rocks to find his way,

Doth tax his sight, but far doth stray.

Not work of man, nor sport of child

Finds Nassan on this mazy wild;

Lax grow his joints, limbs toil in vain—

Poor wight! why didst thou quit that plain?

Vainly for succour Nassan calls;

Know, Zillah, that thy Nassan falls;

But prowling wolf and fox may joy

To quarry on thy Arab boy.

  • In Christian Bök's novel Eunoia (2001), each chapter is restricted to a single vowel, missing four of the five vowels. For example the fourth chapter does not contain the letters "A", "E", "I" or "U". A typical sentence from this chapter is "Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth." Lipogrammatic writing which uses only one vowel has been called univocalic.

  • Cipher and Poverty , a book by Mike Schertzer's (1998), pretends to have been written "by a prisoner whose world had been impoverished to a single utterance... who can find me here in this silence". The following poems use only the 4 vowels "A", "E", "I", and "O", and 11 consonants "C", "D", "F", "H", "L", "M", "N", "R", "S", "T", and "W" of this utterance.

  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (2001) is described as a "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable": the plot of the story deals with a small country which begins to outlaw the use of various letters, and as each letter is outlawed within the story, it is (basically) no longer used in the text of the novel. It is not purely lipogrammatic, however, because the outlawed letters do appear in the text proper from time to time (the characters being penalized with banishment for their use) and when the plot requires a search for pangram sentences, all twenty-six letters are obviously in use. Also, late in the text, the author begins using letters serving as homonyms for the omitted letters (i.e. "PH" in place of an "F", "G" in place of "C"), which some might argue is cheating.

  • Unhooking a DD-Cup Bra without Fumbling by Adam Adams (2008) is a 60,000-word lipogrammatic thriller, written without the letter "E", in which protagonist Shannon Dublin swaps a quaint sanctuary in Bangkok for a hard-riding gothic road trip through Asia.

  • In Swedenmarker a form of lipogram was developed out of necessity at the Linköping Universitymarker. Because files were shared and moved between computer platforms where the internal representation of the characters "Å", "Ä", "Ö", "å", "ä", and "ö" (all moderately common vowels) were different, the tradition to write comments in source code without using those characters emerged. Some also used this as a pastime to write texts using this restriction.

  • Eszperente is a lipogrammatic form of Hungarian in which no vowels can be used other than "E". This task is eased somewhat as "E" is a common vowel in Hungarian. In fact the letter e can denote two similar but distinct vowels. There are poems and even some books written in Eszperente, mostly for children.

  • Zanzō ni Kuchibeni o (1989) by Yasutaka Tsutsui is a lipogrammatic novel in Japanese language. The first chapter is written without , and usable syllables are decreasing as the story advances. In the last chapter, the last syllable vanishes and the story is closed.

  • Russian contemporary author Sergei Dovlatov does not use two words that start with the same letter in a single sentence.<--DATES?--></--DATES?-->

  • The second LP record from Angil & the Hiddentracks: Oulipo Saliva (2007, Unique Records / Chemikal Underground)

    and the third song (Lipograms) from the forthcoming record The And (to be released in spring 2010).

See also


  1. McArthur, Tom (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language, p.612. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214183-X
  3. The Book of Lists #3, p.224.
  4. Gyles Brandreth (1985), The Great Book of Optical Illusions
  5. McArthur, Tom (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language, p.612. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214183-X

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