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Five Incredible Lipograms

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.



A lipogram is a written work that deliberately omits a certain letter of the alphabet by avoiding all words that include that letter.
A lipogram is a written work that deliberately omits a certain letter of the alphabet by avoiding all words that include that letter. "Lipo" actually means "lacking" -- in this case lacking a letter. It takes considerable talent to be able to write anything of length and substance while omitting common letters, yet these five people did just that:

1. Ernest Vincent Wright: Gadsby -- A Novel Without an E
In 1939, Wright, an MIT graduate, wrote a credible 50,000-word novel (Gadsby) that totally excluded the most frequently used letter in the English alphabet. Try writing just one simple sentence without this letter to get an idea of how challenging this is. Wright wrote an entire novel about a man's mission to make his home town more progressive and prosperous by turning over administration to the town youth. You can read an excerpt here.

2. Christian Bok: Euonia -- A Book of Vowel-Less Poetry
An experimental Canadian poet, Bok wrote Eunoia -- a work in which each chapter is missing four of the five vowels (e.g. -- chapter four does not contain a single a, e, i, or u). The work went on to win numerous prizes and become a bestseller. You can read excerpts here.

3. Mark Dunn: Ella Minnow Pea -- An Increasingly Lipogrammatic Book
This 2001 epistolary fable has an interesting plot: a small country begins outlawing the use of various letters of the alphabet. As each letter is banned in the story, it is also not used within the text of the novel. You can read an excerpt here.

4. Gyles Brandreth: Hamlet Without Any I's -- one in a series of Shakespeare's plays re-written with missing vowels
 Brandreth challenged himself to re-write the major works of Shakespeare -- omitting a different letter of the alphabet in each work. In Hamlet, for example, the famous soliloquy reads "To be or not to be; that's the query." Brandreth also wrote Othello without any o's and Macbeth without any a's or e's and Twelfth Night without the letters l and o.

5. A. Ross Eckler -- Nursery Rhymes as Lipograms
A mathematician by academic training and background, Eckler none the less takes great pleasure in rewriting popular nursery rhymes and excluding certain letters in doing so. His best known work continues to be his version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" which he re-wrote as "Mary Had a Pygmy Lamb" and removed the letter s. You can read that rhyme here.