Lipogram

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A lipogram (from Ancient Greek: λειπογράμματος, leipográmmatos, "leaving out a letter") is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting in 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 letter in the English language.[1] Larousse defines a lipogram as a "literary work in which one compels oneself strictly to exclude one or several letters of the alphabet." [2] For the Ancient Greeks, the absence of the sigma is the earliest example of a lipogram.[3]

Writing a lipogram may be a trivial task for uncommon letters like "Z", "J", "Q", 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. Identifying a lipogram can also be a difficult task, as there is the possibility that any piece of writing in any language may be lipogrammatic, or contain a lipogram, without the reader's or the author's notice.

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".

History[edit]

The word 'lipogram' is not always included in dictionaries due to lexicographical ignorance. This is due to the authors of lipograms often being dismissed by academia. "Literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as work, as play."[4]

Lasus of Hermione is the most ancient author of a lipogram, who lived during the second half of the sixth century BCE. This makes the lipogram, according to Quintus Curtius Rufus, "the most ancient systematic artifice of Western literature." [5] Lasus did not like the sigma and excluded from one of his poems entitled Ode to the Centaurs of which nothing remains, as well as a Hymn to Demeter, of which the first verse remains.[5] Δήμητρα μέΆπω Κόραν τε ΚΆυμένοιο άΆοΧον
Which translates to:
I chant of Demeter and Kore, Wife of the famed [Pluto]
Lifting forth a gentle-voiced hymn
In the deep-toned Aeolian mode.[6]

The late antiquity Greek poets Nestor of Laranda and Tryphiodorus of Sicily wrote lipogrammatic adaptations of the Homeric poems: Nestor composed an Iliad, which was followed by Tryphiodorus' Odyssey.[7] Both Nestor's Iliad and Tryphidorous' Odyssey were composed of 24 books (like the original Iliad and Odyssey) each book omitting a subsequent letter of the Greek alphabet. Therefore, the first book omitted alpha, the second beta, and so forth.[3]

Twelve centuries after Tryphiodorus of Sicily wrote his lipogrammatic Odyssey, on Tuesday, May 8, 1711, Addison attacked this work, arguing that "it must have been amusing to see the most elegant word of the language rejected like "a diamond with a flow in it" if it was tainted by the proscribed letter."[8] Addison chose to attack Tryphiodorus' work for unknown reasons, despite the fact that it had been lost previous to Addison's review of the lipogrammatic Odyssey.

Between the ancient Greek and Latin lipograms and more modern lipograms exists the relatively stable German and Italian lipograms from the seventeenth century until modern times, excluding the letter "R." While other authors excluded other letters, it was the exclusion of the "R" which ensured the practice of the lipogram continued into modern times. In German especially, the "R", while not the most prevalent letter, has a very important grammatical role, as male relatives include an "R" (e.g. er, der, dieser, jener, welcher).[9] For the Italian authors, it seems to be a profound dislike of the letter "R" which prompted them to write lipograms excluding this letter (and often only this letter).[10]

After the advent of the lipogram in which great works were rewritten, divided into books, each omitting a subsequent letter of the alphabet (e.g. Iliad by Nestor of Laranda, Odyssey by Tryphiodorus, and a version of the Bible by Pierre de Riga entitled Aurora), the German and the Italian avoidance of the "R" in their writings, there arose the tradition of a vocalic lipogram, in which a vowel (or vowels) is omitted. While this is by far the most difficult form of the lipogram, as vowels are generally easily replaced within a work of literature, it remains difficult depending on which vowel is to be replaced. This tradition was developed mainly in Spain by the Portuguese author Alonso de Alcala y Herrera who published an octavo entitled Varios efetos de amor, en cinco novelas exemplares, y nuevo artificio para escrivir prosa y versos sin una de las letras vocales. From Spain, this method moved into France and England.[10]

One of the 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".[11] Wright's self-imposed rule prohibited 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 fairly smoothly, and the book was praised by critics for its literary merits.[12][13]

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.[14]

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".[15][16]

Interest in lipograms was rekindled by Georges Perec's novel La Disparition (1969) (openly inspired by Wright's Gadsby) and its English translation A Void by Gilbert Adair.[11] 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 second 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. La Dispiration is, to date, the longest lipogram in existence.[17]

Analysing Lipograms[edit]

In his book Rethinking Writing, Roy Harris notes that without the ability to analyse language, the lipogram would be unable to exist. He argues that "the lipogram would be inconceivable unless there were writing systems based on fixed inventories of graphic unites, and unless it were possible to classify written texts on the base of the presence or absence of one of those units irrespective of any phonetic value it might have or any function in the script. He then continues on to argue that as the Greeks were able to invent this system of writing as they had a concept of literary notation. Harris then argues that the proof of this knowledge is found in the Greek invention of "a literate game which consists, essentially, in superimposing the structure of a notation on the structure of texts." [18]

More examples[edit]

  • Piere de Riga, a canon of Sainte-Marie de Reims during the 11th century, translated the Bible, and due to its scriptural obscurities called it Aurora. Each canto of the translation was followed by a resume in Lipogrammic verse; the first canto has no A, the second has no B, and so on. There are two hundred and fifty manuscripts of Piere de Riga’s Bible still preserved.[19]

After Perec's work, many other authors have taken to write under these (or even stronger) constraints. To cite some examples:

  • Gyles Brandreth re-wrote some of Shakespeare's works as lipograms: Hamlet without the letter "i" (e.g., "To be or not to be, that's the query"); Macbeth without "A" or "E"; Twelfth Night without "O" or "L"; Othello without "O".[20][citation needed]
  • A. Ross Eckler, Jr. (Born in 1927) is an American logologist and author, whom surprisingly has a Ph.D. in mathematics. Ross Eckler recreated Mary Had a Little Lamb six times, excluding first the letter “s”, then “a”, then “h”, then “t”, and finally “e”. In the final verse, he only used half of the alphabet: e, t, a, y, n, c, l, d, m, r, h, i, and p.

Original
Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go

He followed her to school one day
That was against the rule
It made the children laugh and play
To see the lamb in school

Without "S":
Mary had a little lamb
With fleece a pale white hue
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb kept her in view

To academe he went with her,
Illegal, and quite rare;
It made the children laugh and play
To view the lamb in there

Without "A":
Polly owned one little sheep
Its fleece shone white like snow
Every region where Polly went
The sheep did surely go

He followed her to school one time
Which broke the rigid rule
The children frolicked in their room
To see the sheep in school

Without "H":
Mary owned a little lamb
Its fleece was pale as snow
And every place its mistress went
It would certainly go

It followed Mary to class one day
It broke a rigid law
It made some students giggle aloud
A lamb in class all saw

Without "T":
Mary had a little lamb
His fleece was pale as snow
And every place where Mary walked
Her lamb did also go

He came inside her classroom once
Which broke a rigid rule
How children all did laugh and play
On seeing a lamb in school!

Without "E":
Mary had a tiny lamb
Its wool was palid as snow
And any spot that Mary did walk
This lamb would always go

This lamb did follow Mary to school
Although against the law
how girls and boys did laugh and play
That lamb in class all saw

Without half the letters of the alphabet:
Maria had a little sheep
As pale as rime its hair
And all the places Maria came
The sheep did tail her there

In Maria's class it came at last
A sheep can't enter there
It made the children clap their hands
A sheep in class, that's rare [21]

  • Eunoia, a book written by Canadian author Christian Bӧk (2001), is a lipogrammatic work. The title of this book is a Pan-vowel, meaning that it uses every vowel at least once in the word. Each of the five chapters in this book is a lipogram; however, rather than omitting a single letter in each chapter, it omits many. The first chapter in this book only uses words containing the vowel "A", the second chapter uses only words with the vowel "E", and so on.[22] Due to its use of lipograms, vowels, and other literary devices, this book is widely regarded as the best written work of Canadian poetry.[23]
  • Fate of Nassan, an anonymous poem dating from pre-1870, where each stanza is a lipogrammatic pangram (using every letter of the alphabet except "E").[24]

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.

  • Cipher and Poverty (The Book of Nothing), a book by Mike Schertzer (1998), pretends to have been written "by a prisoner whose world had been impoverished to a single utterance... who can find me here in this silence". The poems that follow use only the four vowels "A", "E", "I", and "O", and eleven consonants "C", "D", "F", "H", "L", "M", "N", "R", "S", "T", and "W" of this utterance.
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (2001) 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 as the tiles of each letter fall off of a statue, and as each letter is outlawed within the story, it is (for the most part) 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 homophones for the omitted letters (i.e., "PH" in place of an "F", "G" in place of "C"), which some might argue is cheating. At the beginning of each chapter, the alphabet appears along with a sentence, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". As the letters are removed from the story, the alphabet and sentence changes.

"Chapter 1": ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog".
"Chapter 2": ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXY* "The quick brown fox jumps over the la*y dog".
"Chapter 3": ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP*RSTUVWXY* "The *uick brown fox jumps over the la*y dog".
"Chapter 4": ABCDEFGHI*KLMNOP*RSTUVWXY* "The *uick brown fox *umps over the la*y dog".[25]

  • In December 2009, a collective of crime writers, Criminal Brief, published eight days of articles as a Christmas-themed lipogrammatic exercise.[26]
  • In June 2013, career and personal finance author Alan Corey published "The Subversive Job Search",[27] the first non-fiction lipogram ever published.[28] The entire book was written without the letter Z.
  • How I met Your Mother: Season 9, Episode 9: "Platonish" In this episode, Lilly and Robin challenge Barney to obtain a girl's phone number without using the letter "E".
  • Another type of lipogram, which omits the letter from the word as opposed to finding a synonym not using the letter to be omitted, was recorded by Willard R. Espy, called 181 Missing O's.[29]

N mnk t gd t rb r cg r plt.
N fl s grss t blt Sctch cllps ht.
Frm Dnjn's tps n rnc rlls.
Lgwd, nt Lts, flds prt's bwls.
Bx tps, nt bttms, schl-bys flg fr sprt.
N cl mnsns blw sft n xfrd dns,
rthdx, jg-trt, bk-wrm Slmns.
Bid strgths f ghsts n hrrr shw.
n Lndn shp-frnts n hp-blssms grw.
T crcks f gld n dd Iks fr fd.
n sft cltl fstls n Id fx dth brd.
Lng strm-tst slps frlrn, wrk n t prt.
Rks d nt rst n spns, nr wd-ccks snrt,
Nr dg n snw-drd r n cltsft rlls,
Nr cmmn frg cncct lng prtcls.

  • There also exists an example of a Lipogram combined with a pan-gram. A pan-gram is a text, most often a single sentence, containing every letter in the alphabet. This work is also a lipogram because it omits the letter "E".

A jovial swain should not complain
of any buxom fair
Who mocks his pain and this it gain
To quiz his awkward air.[30]

Non-English examples[edit]

  • 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" (all moderately common vowels) 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.[citation needed]
  • Zanzō ni Kuchibeni o (1989) by Yasutaka Tsutsui is a lipogrammatic novel in Japanese. The first chapter is written without , and usable syllables are decreasing as the story advances. In the last chapter, the last syllable vanishes and the story is closed.
  • Zero Degree (1991) by Charu Nivedita is a lipogrammatic novel in Tamil. The entire novel is written without ஒரு (one), and there are no punctuation marks in the novel except dots. Later the novel was translated in English.
  • Russian 18th-century poet Gavriil Derzhavin avoided the harsh R sound (and the letter) in his poem "The Nightingale" in order to render the bird's singing.
  • Russian author Sergei Dovlatov did not use two words that start with the same letter in a single sentence, inspired by Perec's experience.

Non-Literary Examples[edit]

While a lipogram is usually constrained to literary works, there is also precedent for chromatic lipograms, where a piece of music avoids the use of certain notes. Cited by the author is the avoidance of either the second, sixth, and tenth notes, or the third, seventh, and eleventh notes in a chromatic scale.[31]

  • A website called the found poetry review, asked its readers to complete a project on April 2, 2014. This assignment required readers to compose a poem using only words that did not contain letters from the newspapers they were working with. The example they used was; if the papers title is Washington Post, then the author cannot use words with the letters A, G, H, I, N, O, P, S, T, and W.[32]

References[edit]

  1. ^ McArthur, Tom (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language, p.612. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214183-X
  2. ^ "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.97-98 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  3. ^ a b Motte Jr, Warren F (1986). "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.100 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  4. ^ "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.98 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  5. ^ a b "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.100 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  6. ^ Athen., 14.624e-f, and see 10.455c-d
  7. ^ Swain, S.; Harrison, S.; Elsner, J. (2007), Severan Culture, Cambridge, p. 5, ISBN 9780521859820 .
  8. ^ "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.101 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  9. ^ "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.102 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  10. ^ a b "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.103 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  11. ^ a b Andrews, Dale (2013-02-26). "Constrained Writing". Washington: SleuthSayers. 
  12. ^ Burton, Walt (March 25, 1937), "Fifty Thousand Words Minus", Oshkosh Daily 
  13. ^ Bellamy, Francis Rufus (March 1936), "Glancing Through", Fiction Parade and Golden Book Magazine 2 (5): 62 
  14. ^ Park, Ed (August 6, 2002), "Egadsby! Ernest Vincent Wright's Machine Dreams", The Village Voice 
  15. ^ http://perso.wanadoo.es/jardielponcela/documentos/texto1.htm
  16. ^ Jardiel, Enrique (1948), Para Leer Mientras Sube el Ascensor 
  17. ^ Sorensen, Roy (October 1999), "Blanks: Signs of Omission", American Philosophical Quarterly 
  18. ^ "Rethinking Writing", p.113-114 Continuum. ISBN 9780826479242
  19. ^ Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, and Paul Braffort, History of the Lipogram, page 101, 102.
  20. ^ The Book of Lists #3, p.224.
  21. ^ Willard R. Espy, The best of an Almanac of words at play, Mary had a Lipogram
  22. ^ Christian Bӧk, Eunoia, Coach House Books, 2005
  23. ^ Christian Bök
  24. ^ Bombaugh, Charles C. (2013). "Gleanings for the curious from the harvest-fields of literature : Bombaugh, Charles C. (Charles Carroll), 1828-1906 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". archive.org. Retrieved 4 August 2013. 
  25. ^ Mark Dunn, Ella Minnow Pea, MP Publishing, 2010
  26. ^ Lundin, Leigh; Warren, James Lincoln; Lopresti, Rob; Elliott-Upton, Deborah; Steinbock, Steve; Floyd, John (December 2009). "Christmas Contest". Lipograms. Los Angeles: Criminal Brief. Retrieved 27 February 2013. 
  27. ^ http://www.careerpress.com/?section=home&product_id=356
  28. ^ http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/2013/06/alan-corey-talks-about-4-fun-writerly.html
  29. ^ http://grammar.about.com/od/il/g/lipogram.htm
  30. ^ Susan Elkin,Lipograms: The Presence of Absence, page 15
  31. ^ Slonimsky, Nicolas (Winter 1968–1969), "Alexander Tcherepnin Septuagenarian", Tempo 
  32. ^ http://www.foundpoetryreview.com/blog/oulipost-2-lipogram/, April 2, 2014

External links[edit]