What Is a Lipogram?

Updated on February 8, 2018
CatherineGiordano profile image

The English language is endlessly fascinating to Catherine Giordano, a writer and public speaker. She strives to always use the perfect word

Lipograms require omitting one or more letters.
Lipograms require omitting one or more letters. | Source

What Is a Lipogram?

Lipogram refers to any text composed of words which lack a particular letter. It may be prose of poetry.

Lipo means "lacking; without," and gram comes from gramma, meaning "letter."

Composing a lipogram forces the writer to refrain from using many ordinary words. It can be very difficult to compose grammatically correct, meaningful, and smooth-flowing prose or poetry when this constraint is applied.

The earliest lipograms may have been composed in the sixth century BC. None of them has survived.

What Is the Most Common Letter in English?

Because the letter “E” is the most common letter in the English language, the most challenging lipograms exclude the letter “E.”

I tried a phrase from Shakespeare’s soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet. It is 10 words, with 36 letters with 6 “E’s”

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

It took a while, but I came up with this rhyme:

“A crimson bloom of an unknown brand

is just as fragrant to an olfactory gland.”

Next I tried my hand at a couplet from Shakespeare's Hamlet. Only four "E's"should be easy. It wasn't.

"To be or not to be? That is the question."

Without using any "E's," the best I could do was this clunker. However, credit where credit is due: I did manage a near-rhyme with "oblivion" and "conundrum."

"To stay in this mortal world or by my own hand go to oblivion? That is my conundrum."

"A crimson bloom"i is a rose by another name.
"A crimson bloom"i is a rose by another name. | Source

What Are Some Examples of Llipograms?

"Mart Had a Little Lamb" is a favorite target for lipogram because it is such a well known and well-loved poem. .

Everyone knows the original nursery rhyme.

"Mary had a little lamb

Ifs fleece was white as snow,

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go."

This lipogram on the nursery rhyme is done omitting only the letter "O". (1) The letter "O' appears only three times in the poem, but avoiding that letter required required a lot of rewriting.

"Mary had a little lamb

The bleached and chalky kind

And everywhere she went, the lamb

Was rarely left behind."

A. Ross Heckler Junior, did 5 versions of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" lipograms with each omitting a different letter of the alphabet. (A, E, H, , S, T). (2) (He also did a 6th one which used only half of the letters of the alphabet.)

Ernest Vincent Wright, author of Gadsby, enjoyed turning famous sayings into lipogrammatic form.

He took William Congreve’s line from his 1697 play, The Mourning Bride,"Music has charms to soothe a savage breast," and transformed it into "Music calms a wild bosom.”

He took a line from John Keat’s poem Endymion, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and transformed it to "A charming thing is a joy always."

"Mary had a little lamb, the bleached and chalky kind..."
"Mary had a little lamb, the bleached and chalky kind..." | Source

Have Entire Novels Been Written as a Lipogram?

There are quite a few novels wirten in lipogramatic form.After trying to do just one sentence without the letter “e”, I can attest to the enormity of his accomplishment.

Gadsby

In 1939, Ernest Vincent Writer published Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter E.The plot concerns a fictional city, Brandon. This dying city is revitalized by the efforts of the protagonist, John Gadsby.

In the introduction to the book, Wright said that the most difficult part was avoiding past-tense verbs that ended in “ed.” Instead of saying “he talked” he had to say “He did talk.”

The copyright expired in 1968 and the book is now in the public domain.

Here is the opening paragraph of the book. Notice that some of his sentences seem a bit tortured. Frankly, I don’t know how he did it without a computer with a “find” function to make sure he didn’t inadvertently include an “e”

"If Youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn't constantly run across folks today who claim that "a child don't know anything." A child's brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult's act, and figuring out its purport."

La Disparation and The Void

Georges Perec, who was openly inspired by Gadsby, wrote a novel La Disparition in 1969 without the letter “E”, the most common letter in the French language as it is in the English language. (It’s English translation, A Void by Gilbert Adair, is also missing the letter "E.") Perec subsequently turned the tables on himself and wrote Les Revenentes in 1972, a novel that uses no vowels except for "E".

The Wonderful O

The Wonderful O by James Thurber, a children’s book published in 1957, does not use the letter “O.” The book tells the story about pirates who take over the island of Ooroo and ban the letter “O.”

Alphabetical Aftrica

In 1974, Walter Albish wrote a novel, Alphabetical Africa. The first chapter uses only words beginning with "A." The second chapter uses only words beginning with "B," and so on. In chapter 26, Albish places no restrictions on the initial letter of the words he uses. Then, for the next 25 chapters, he reverses the process.

Fate of Nassan

Fate of Nassan is an anonymous poem dating from pre-1870. Each stanza is lipogrammatic pangram (using every letter of the alphabet except "E"). The first verse is:

"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.”

Enoia

In Christian Bok’s 2001 novel. Eunoia, each chapter is restricted to a single vowel. 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."

What Are Some Other Types of Lipograms?

A pangram is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet at least once.

A pangrammatic lipogram (or lipogrammatic pangram) is a text that uses every letter of the alphabet except one. A well-known example is--"The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."-- which omits "S".

Lipogrammatic writing which uses only one vowel has been called univocalic.

Why Do People Write Llipograms?

The short answer is, “Because they can.” It is done just for fun, to impress the world with one’s cleverness, or for the thrill of solving a difficult puzzle, as for instance doing a difficult crossword puzzle.

Or maybe someone has just had some tramautic experience with a certain letter and must now avoid the psychic pain associated with the sight or sound of that letter. (Just kidding.)

John Sturroc, a literary critic wrote, “The lipogram should be a purposeless ordeal undertaken voluntarily, a gratuitous taxing of the brain, and the severer the better. It should make the business of writing not pleasanter but harder."

Wordplay is  exercise for the brain.
Wordplay is exercise for the brain. | Source

Try it yourself. Take any poem, story, or line and rewrite it without using a specific letter. No fair choosing the least common letters: Q, V, X, Z.

Are you ready to try your own lipogram?

See results

How Do I Write a Liipogram?

As with everything, there is no one right way to write a lipogram. Here is how I do it.

First, I think of a line or quote that I like. I write it down and circle the letters that I will need to remove.

Second, I try to rewrite the line, staying as close to the original, and the original meaning, as I can.

If I can simply change out the word with the offending letter with a synonym, great. However, it usually requires finding another way of making the same point.

Third, I try to stay true to the "mood" of the original as well. It may be formal, playful, poetic, musical, etc.

A short phrase should only take a few minutes. Even though I had never done lipograms before, I did mine in under five minutes.

Give it a try. Have fun. Remember it is word-PLAY.

What Are Some Other Types of Word-Play

Type
Definition
Anagram
Rearranging the letters of a word or phrase to produce a new word or phrase
Palindrome
A word or phrase that reads the same in either direction (live devil)
Neologism
Creating new words
Oxymoran
A combination of two contradictory terms (jumbo shrimp)
Pun
Deliberately mixing two similar-sounding words

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Catherine Giordano

    Please write comments or your own lipograms here.

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Elsie: Please do write one and post it here. I enjoyed your nursery rhyme lipogram hub.

      • Elsie Hagley profile image

        Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

        Thanks Catherine with the update. I did enjoy writing one and still may write more.

        Have a nice day.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Ok no problem Catherine, was just wondering.Thanks.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        My apologies Jodah. Only a few people submitted a lipogram so I just dopped the idea of a contest. There weren't any prizes in this contest so I didn't go through with the judging. I hope everyone who wrote a lipogram had fun with it, tho.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Was this ever judged Catherine?

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        grand old lady: Give it a try. You should be able to do one in under 10 minutes. It's a great brain-teaser. Thanks for your comment.

      • grand old lady profile image

        Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

        This is the first time I heard of a lipogram. It sounds very interesting and quite challenging. Thanks for such a useful article.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        ps: Thanks for commenting. I hope you give it a try. There are still a few hours before the deadline for the challenge.

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

        One thing I love so much about HubPages is I learn new things daily.

        This sounds like a fun endeavor to try.....thanks for the heads up

        Angels are on the way ps

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Sorry. I got the day wrong. The deadline or the Lipogram Challenge is Saturday 1/31 at midnight EST. it only takes a few minutes to do one, so give it a try.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        The deadline for the lipogram challenge is Sunday 1/31. Get your entries in.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Sandy. Have you taken the challenge yet? It closes on Jan.31. I'd love to have you participate. I've lined up some judges.

      • SandyMertens profile image

        Sandy Mertens 3 years ago from Frozen Tundra

        Glad to have a refresher on what a lipogram is.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks, Jodah that is a fun one. I decided I'm going to ask 3 literary friends to be the judges because they will be unbiased.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

        From the Elvis Presley song "In the Ghetto".

        Original "..and another little baby child was born in the ghetto..and a momma cried..."

        Without the letter "o"

        ..and an additional little baby child was birthed in the slums...and a mamma cried...

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Lady Guinevere: Thank you for your comment and or voting up. Lipograms are fun. I'm glad you enjoyed learning about them.

      • Lady Guinevere profile image

        Debra Allen 3 years ago from West By God

        I have never heard of these. Thanks for sharing and I voted it up.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Glenn for taking the challenge. I will look for your word-play hubs.

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

        Thanks, Catherine. I had fun with that last one. But now for my entry into the Lipogram Challenge, I found this famous saying by Martin H. Fischer:

        "Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth."

        My rendition without the E's:

        "Living affords a coupon for a top show in our world."

        I love this kind of stuff. I also wrote two hubs about playing with words - one about using Alliterations and another with Interjections in Sentences.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        I just did one. I took a tongue twister and removed the twister. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" becomes "Bilbo Baggins bought a bunch of brined bananas." (As in banana peppers). Or would "habarneros" be better?

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Glenn Stok: Hooray, Mr. Stok, you did it. Can you rework a famous saying containing no word with "you-know-what" in it? If so, you must submit it and try to win the favor of our evaluators of lipogramatic quality.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        DaphneDL: I'm glad you accepted the Lipogram challenge. I can't wait to see what you will come up with.

      • Elsie Hagley profile image

        Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

        I have made a hub on nursery rhymes using the letter "O" it was fun really made me think.

        Thanks for the challenge. https://hubpages.com/literature/lipogram-word-play...

      • Glenn Stok profile image

        Glenn Stok 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

        My lipogram musing - Good work on your part. I can say that it's gigantically hard to author quality words without using that fifth position in our list of alphas. It turns out funny, as is obvious from this musing. You know what's missing. Wow. I did it! That was fun.

      • DaphneDL profile image

        Daphne D. Lewis 3 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

        It sounds fun so we'll see what I can come up with for the challenge. Have a great day!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        DaphneDL: I so glad you told me you love this post and that you want to take the Lipogram challenge. I'll be looking for your entry. It is not as hard as it might seem. You should be able to do one I about five minutes. It's fun like doing a cross-word puzzle.

      • DaphneDL profile image

        Daphne D. Lewis 3 years ago from Saint Albans, West Virginia

        Words and word games are so much fun. Lipograms are new to me, but I'm going to try to find one to do for the challenge. Loved this post!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Jodah for your participation. I know it will be a great one.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

        Hmm, now to find a suitable quote and go lipogramming. I shall return with the finished result.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Elsie for accepting the lipogram challenge. Once you choose the quote you want to rewrite, it shouldn't take too long. Under 15 minutes. I find it a challenge and fun.

      • Elsie Hagley profile image

        Elsie Hagley 3 years ago from New Zealand

        Very interesting, have never heard of that word "Lipogram".

        I will certainly have a go with the challenge, end January, plenty of time.

        Thanks for sharing this with us, as you said "Good for the mind", nice start for the new year.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Audrey. Why not give it a try?

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

        This is fascinating and fun!!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks. ocfireflies. I hope you will try to do one and post it here. I love reading them.

      • ocfireflies profile image

        ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

        What fun! I had never heard of lipograms. I will definitely have some fun playing with these. Great hub! Superb presentation.

        Best,

        Kim

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Yeah! Great job, Swisstoons. The longest one yet. Maybe you can write the next 50,000 word novel without that most common letter. I especially love the "whilst"--so clever.

      • Swisstoons profile image

        Thomas F. Wuthrich 3 years ago from Michigan

        I'm back! Thank you again so much for your invitation. But try as I might, I'm finding it so so difficult to avoid using that most common of all our ABCs . You know which symbol I'm talking about. Trying to construct a lipogram whilst avoiding it is hard . It's so hard, in fact, I almost quit trying! But...wait...wait... I think I finally got it. This is it! I know it's not much, but it's all I could do this morning!

      • Swisstoons profile image

        Thomas F. Wuthrich 3 years ago from Michigan

        Thanks for the invite, Catherine! Years ago, I did construct and sell some crosswords to puzzle magazines...and sold a couple dozen funny gag puzzles based on a telephone's keypad to Dell. I'm pretty good at solving cryptograms, if I do say so myself. ETAOINSHRDLU...the most commonly used letters in the English language...in order! :D I'll have to give Lipograms a try...when I have some free time! Thanks, again!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks Swisstoons. Why don't you give it a try to post it here. It only takes a few minutes to do one. If you like cross word puzzles and word games, you will find it to be fun.u

      • Swisstoons profile image

        Thomas F. Wuthrich 3 years ago from Michigan

        Excellent! I'd never heard of lipograms. Fascinating stuff...particularly the fact that entire books have been written without a particular letter. I applaud you for your rewrites of the Shakespeare passages. Very nicely done! :D

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Another great lipogram. "Finding the plumb" is such great word-craft. I'll work on that "next level" next week. Who knows? Perhaps it will be the new ice-bucket challenge. I'm hoping more people will get involved with writing lipograms first. It starts to get addictive, doesn't it?

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

        Well thanks! We probably have Dr. S. to thank mostly for his work is easy to work with. :)

        The idea of taking this to the next level sounds fun. Others have already been very creative here and it will be interesting to see what new ones come in. I'll try again:

        Original Quote

        What is the essence of America?  Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom "to" and freedom "from."  ~Marilyn vos Savant

        No Cs:

        What is the spirit of America?

        Gaining and perpetuating the plumb

        of ideal, fragile equity between

        freedom “to” and freedom “from.”

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        As soon as I collect a few more and have time to look into how to do it I'll take this further with a new hub or challenge.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        RTalloni's is brilliant! So is your idea for making a hub or a challenge - go for it!

        Ann

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        RTaloni--brilliant lipogram. It's funny and it rhymes. I just love it. What do you think about me taking all of these lipograms and making a hub and then let people vote for the best one. I would credit the authors of course. Or maybe it could be some kind of HP challenge. I'll have to look into it--I have no idea how that would work. In the meantime, thank you for sharing. the link doesn't work. I search the forum by topic.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

        Playing with words is such fun stuff! Thanks for a day brightener. Here’s a first attempt, no Is:

        Original Quote:

        Think left and think right and think low and think high, oh, the things you can think if you only try! --Dr. Suess

        Zero Is:

        Ponder left, ponder the reverse, ponder down and ponder up, oh the stuff you can ponder if only you wonder!

        You’ve reminded me of an old HP Challenge Writing Skills, https://hubpages.com/forum/topic/64357, that was a fun exercise to do. Writing a short story in LESS than 10 words gives a chance to think left, think right, think low, think high... :)

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        Glad it gave you some mirth! Ann

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thank you so much Annart. I laughed with delight. Kevin did a really great lipogram, but I think if I were judging a contest, you would be neck and neck.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        I said I'd pop back with something else.

        How about 2 book titles:

        Pride & Prejudice without 'i' becomes

        Nose upwards & Friend-Fussy

        Far from the Madding Crowd without 'a' becomes

        Miles from Rushing, Crushing People

        I'm still working on it! Thanks for the challenge. My vote would go to Kevin.

        Ann

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        I don't want to edit the hub so I'll post my new lipograms here. The starting text is "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 1: How do I display how fond I am of you? I can count many ways. 2: How do I talk to you about how I am struck by Cupid's arrow? I can say many things.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        I'm so glad you say so. Do stop by again. I can't stop doing lipograms. (This post is without a you-know-what.) Thank you for high marks.

      • janshares profile image

        Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

        This is a pretty amazing hub. I had never heard of a lipogram. Very informative and fun. I'll have to put sometime aside to try one later. Voted up and interesting.

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thank you so much for sharing and pinning and voting up. I liked your lipograms, especially "shall I stay or shall I go." It closely adheres to the original and makes an allusion to a rock song. I'm glad I was able to revive your interest in this "art form."

      • The Examiner-1 profile image

        The Examiner-1 3 years ago

        This was very interesting Catherine. I had grown up filling in crosswords and doing many other puzzles in books and magazines so I had heard of that word, I had just forgotten the meaning. Your Hub reminded me. It was great! I accepted your challenge and wrote them below.

        Romeo and Juliet

        "A maroon blossom of another brand

        leaves perfume in the fragrance gland"

        Hamlet

        "Shall I stay or shall I go? This is my frustration."

        I voted this up, shared and pinned it.

        Kevin

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Annart: I thought it was wonderful.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        That's ok. I'll have another go anyway, the first one was terrible!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        So sorry. I forgot that you already did one. I get to play the senior card and blame it on menopause and short term memory loss.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        I'll have a think and come back to you with a better one than the I gave you last time!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        So do one, annart. I've seen your work. I KNOW you can do it. I love seeing them.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        That's really good, Linda. You've started something here, Catherine!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        I love it. Thanks for playing. I might have to think up some kind of prize for the best lipograms.

      • profile image

        Linda Fessel 3 years ago

        I couldn't resist the challenge. I took "Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars." Without an e, I came up with

        "Hurl my body to that nightly shining orb, and grant my wish to frolic through cosmic starry dust." (Great fun!)

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Your example made me laugh so I have to say that it was indeed good. Thank you for that. I came across the subject of lipograms in a newsletter for the first time this week, and then I researched it. One thing about hubs, I learn something new everyday. Like lipograms, they are exercise for the mind.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

        I'm a retired English teacher but I've never heard of a lipogram so thank you for educating me today! Ok, let's try a bit of Shakespeare too, without an 'o':

        'If music be the food of love, give me excess of it!' becomes -

        If music be a meal that pleases, make sure my guitar always sings!

        No, not very good, but there we are. Thanks for the challenge.

        Great hub and great fun!

      • CatherineGiordano profile image
        Author

        Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

        Thanks. I'm glad you liked it. Word play can be fun.

      • SANJAY LAKHANPAL profile image

        Sanjay Sharma 3 years ago from Mandi (HP) India

        Very nice and informative hub about Lipogram. Voted up.

      working