crooked lawyer


[lip-uh-gram, lahy-puh-]
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 missing, usually a common vowel, the most common in English being e (McArthur, 1992). A lipogram author avoiding e then only uses the 25 remaining letters of the alphabet.

An example of a lipogram omitting "e" is this version of the preceding paragraph:

A lipogram is a kind of writing with constraints that consists of full paragraphs or books in which a particular symbol, such as that fifth symbol of Latin's script (which is most common in writing), is missing. An author of this kind of lipogram must submit to an awful handicap, allowing only consonants and A, I, O, U, and Y. This is ordinarily a quorum of six fours plus half of two (or XXV, to a Roman).

Another example, this time challenging the reader to discover the oddity:

This is an unusual month — Santa, snow and so on. But this is an unusual paragraph too. How quickly can you find out what is so uncommon about it? It looks so ordinary that you may think nothing is odd about it, until you actually match it against most paragraphs this long. If you put your mind to it and study it hard, you will find out — but nobody may assist you — do it without any coaching. Go to work and try your skill at figuring it out. Par on it is about half an hour. Good luck — and don't blow your cool.

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. Writing this way, the author must omit many ordinary words, often resulting in stilted-sounding text that can be difficult to understand. Well-written lipograms are rare, providing a challenge to writers.

Examples of lipograms include the above example, Ernest Vincent Wright's Gadsby (1939), and Georges Perec's novel A Void (La Disparition) (1969), both of which are missing the letter E (the most common letter in both French and English). Perec was one of a group of French authors called Oulipo who adopted a variety of constraints in their work. Gilbert Adair's English translation of La Disparition, titled A Void, stayed faithful to the spirit of the French original by not using the letter E either, thereby restricting the writer from employing such common English words as the and me. A Spanish translation instead omits the letter A, as that is the most common letter in Spanish. Perec subsequently wrote Les revenentes (1972), a novel that uses no vowels except for E.

Other writers have reworked previous works into lipograms; for example, Gyles Brandreth re-wrote some of Shakespeare's works: Hamlet without the letter "I" redoing the oft-quoted soliloquy "To be or not to be, that's the query"; Macbeth without "A" or "E"; Twelfth Night without "O" or "L"; Othello without "O".

Another recent example is Eunoia by Christian Bök in which each chapter is 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 is called univocalic (McArthur, 1992).

"Unhooking a DD-Cup Bra without Fumbling" by Adam Adams (Monsoon Books, 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.

The eponymous cycle of poems from Cipher and Poverty (The Book of Nothing) by Canadian poet Mike Schertzer was created "by a prisoner whose world had been impoverished to a single utterance... who can find me here in this silence". The 4 vowels and 11 consonants of this utterance comprise the alphabet for the subsequent poems.

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 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.

Walter Abish's "Alphabetical Africa," while not strictly following the defined constraints of lipogrammatics, is constructed with somewhat similarly playful impositions. In this novel, the first chapter consists solely of words beginning with "a." Chapter two adds 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. Throughout, he attempts valiantly, if awkwardly, to keep a plot of sorts going.

The Wonderful O by James Thurber describes what happens to the inhabitants of the island nation Ooroo when two pirates and their crooked lawyer forbid the use of the letter 'O', and ban every object containing an 'O' in its name. Ooroo is renamed R, while a citizen of Ooroo named Ophelia Oliver is renamed Phelia Liver, and so forth. Citizens greet each other by saying "Hell" rather than "Hello". The new laws are applied capriciously: the crooked lawyer dislikes grapefruit (which contains no "o" in its name), so he bans it by invoking the French translation pamplemousse. While not formally a lipogram, sections of Thurber's novel are devoid of "O" or otherwise subjected to wordplay.

In Sweden a form of lipogram was developed out of necessity at the Linköping University. Because files were shared and moved between computer platforms where the internal representation of the characters Å, Ä, Ö, å, ä, and ö 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 playful "language", 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. There are poems and even some books written in Eszperente, mostly for children.

In popular culture

  • In episode 1F16 of the Simpsons, "Burns' Heir", Montgomery Burns makes Lenny Leonard explain without using the letter 'E' why he shouldn't be fired. When Lenny says, "Um, I'm a good... work... guy," Burns fires him anyway, by pressing a button that opens a trap door under Lenny's feet. As Lenny falls, he blurts out, "but I didn't say... eeeeee!"
  • In season 5, episode 7 of Gilmore Girls ("You Jump, I Jump, Jack"), Rory stumbles into a conversation that forbids 'e', and gamely joins in for a few moments.

Pangrammatic lipogram

The pangrammatic lipogram, or lipogrammatic pangram, is a passage that uses every letter of the alphabet except one common one; in this sense it is not a true pangram, but fits the criteria for a lipogram. The following example, each verse of which contains every letter of the alphabet except e, can be found in Gyles Brandreth's 1985 compilation The Great Book of Optical Illusions.

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.

See also



  • McArthur, Tom (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language, p.612. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214183-X.

External links

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