Lipogram

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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 avoided — usually a common vowel, and frequently "E", the most common in the English.[1]

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 meaningful and smooth-flowing lipograms can be difficult to compose.

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."

Contents

History

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.[2][3]

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.[4]

Even earlier, Spanish playwright Enrique Jardiel Poncela published five short stories between 1926 and 1927, each one omitting a vowel; the best known are "El Chofer Nuevo" ("The new Driver"), without the letter "A", and "Un marido sin vocación" ("A Vocationless Husband"), without the "E".[5][6]

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.

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