Lipogram

A lipogram is a kind of writing with constraints consisting of writing full paragraphs or books in which a particular symbol, such as that fifth symbol in talks in which it is most common, is missing. An author must submit to an awful handicap, allowing only consonants and A, I, O, and U; this is ordinarily a quorum of six fours and two.

This is a trivial task for uncommon symbols such as Z, W, or X, but it calls for much thought if you must avoid a common symbol. Writing without using common glyphs is impractical in many ways, as an author must omit many ordinary words. Many common words such as ordinary pronouns and action words must not occur in a lipogrammatist's manuscripts and drafts. Our author must omit a big part of his dictionary, which is difficult in its own right. In idioms of that South British lingo familiar to Milton (not Scottish, nor Irish, nor Cymric, but that of Gringos, most Canadianss, Australians also, and in addition that of austral islands not too far away from Oz), omission of that symbol which follows D, with F following on in its own turn, is most difficult; tough, you might say, and all would concur.

Alas, for lack of application, lipogrammatists can slip up and with what upshot? Inclusion of that symbol you had sought to avoid. Oh my, my, such a pity. A shambolic lipogram! Sham! So that you do not miss my point: all of this stuff and rubbish was a Q-lipogram. But, no, it isn't! What is still missing is that symbol twixt I and K! But is it just that symbol? Oh, no! A slip up! This is as difficult as writing a dictionary! My typing digits, in pain, must follow my brain's commands, and no slip-ups must occur if I want to do this right!


Examples of lipograms include the above, Ernest Vincent Wright's Gadsby (1939), and Georges Perec's novel La Disparition, all of which are missing the letter E (the most common letter in both French and English). Gilbert Adair's US 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'.

Another recent example is Eunoia by Christian Bok in which each chapter is missing four of the five vowels. For example the fourth chapter does not contain any letters A, E, I or U. An example phrase from this chapter is "Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth." Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn is described as a "progressively lipogrammatic novel": 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 no longer used in the text of the novel.

The word comes from Greek elipe gramma, meaning "he left out a letter".


Georges Perec is one of a group of French authors who adopted a variety of constraints in their work. Together they form Oulipo.

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