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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 of 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] Extended Ancient Greek texts avoiding the letter sigma are the earliest examples of lipograms.[3]

Writing a lipogram may be a trivial task when avoiding uncommon letters like Z, J, Q, or X, but it is much more challenging to avoid common letters like E, T, or A, as the author must omit many ordinary words. Grammatically meaningful and smooth-flowing lipograms can be difficult to compose. Identifying lipograms can also be problematic, as there is always the possibility that a given piece of writing in any language may be unintentionally lipogrammatic. For example, Poe's poem The Raven contains no Z, but there is no evidence that this was intentional.

A pangrammatic lipogram is a text that uses every letter of the alphabet except one. For example, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" omits the letter S, which the usual pangram includes by using the word jumps.


The word lipogram is not always included in dictionaries.[weasel words] This may be 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, who lived during the second half of the sixth century BCE, is the most ancient author of a lipogram. 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 it 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]

Δάματρα μέλπω Κόραν τε Κλυμένοι᾽ ἄλοχον
μελιβόαν ὕμνον ἀναγνέων
Αἰολίδ᾽ ἂμ βαρύβρομον ἁρμονίαν
Dámatra mélpô Kóran te Klyménoi᾽ álochon
melibóan hýmnon anagnéôn
Aiolíd᾽ ám barýbromon armonían

This 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 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 wrote his lipogrammatic Odyssey, in 1711, the influential London essayist and journalist Joseph Addison commented on this work (although it had been lost), arguing that "it must have been amusing to see the most elegant word of the language rejected like "a diamond with a flaw in it" if it was tainted by the proscribed letter".[8]

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.[9]

There is a tradition of German and Italian lipograms excluding the letter R dating from the seventeenth century until modern times. While some 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).[10] 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).[11]

There is also a long tradition of vocalic lipograms, in which a vowel (or vowels) is omitted. This tends to be the most difficult form of the lipogram. This practice 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, the method moved into France[12] and England.[11]

One of the most remarkable examples of a lipogram is Ernest Vincent Wright's novel Gadsby (1939), which has over 50,000 words but not a single letter E.[13] Wright's self-imposed rule prohibited such common English words as the and he, plurals ending in -es, past tenses ending in -ed, and even abbreviations like Mr. (since it is short for Mister) or Rob (for Robert). Yet the narration flows fairly smoothly, and the book was praised by critics for its literary merits.[14][15]

Wright was motivated to write Gadsby by an earlier four-stanza lipogrammatic poem of another author.[16]

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.[17][18]

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.[13] 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 Disparition is, to date, the longest lipogram in existence.[19]

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 units, 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".[20]

Mary Had a Little Lamb example[edit]

A. Ross Eckler Jr. (1927–2016) was an American logologist and author who recreated Mary Had a Little Lamb six times, excluding first the letter S, then A, H, T, and finally E. In the final verse, he only used half of the alphabet: A, C, D, E, H, I, L, M, N, P, R, S, and T (thus omitting B, F, G, O, U, V, W, and Y — note that J, K, Q, X, and Z are not used in the original poem). A comparison of the verses gives a sense of the difficulties involved in omitting certain common letters from extended passages of English text.

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 small 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 pallid as snow
And any spot that Mary did walk
This lamb would always go

This lamb did follow Mary to school
Although against a 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]

Pangrammatic lipogram[edit]

A pangrammatic lipogram or lipogrammatic pangram uses every letter of the alphabet except one. An example omitting the letter E is:[22]

A jovial swain should not complain
Of any buxom fair
Who mocks his pain and thinks it gain
To quiz his awkward air.

A longer example is 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.[23]

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.

Dropping letters[edit]

Another type of lipogram, which omits every instance of a letter from words that would otherwise contain it, as opposed to finding other words that do not contain the letter, was recorded by Willard R. Espy in 181 Missing O's.[24]

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.
Bld 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.

Note that the above is also a conventional lipogram in omitting the letters A, E, I and U.

American author James Thurber wrote The Wonderful O (1957), a fairy tale in which villains ban the letter 'O' from use by the inhabitants of the island of Oooroo.

The book 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. 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]

Other examples[edit]

Cipher and Poverty (The Book of Nothing), a book by Mike Schertzer (1998), is presented as the writings of "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 that utterance.

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 uses only words containing the vowel "A" and no other vowel. The second chapter uses only words with no vowel but "E", and so on.[26]

In December 2009, a collective of crime writers, Criminal Brief, published eight days of articles as a Christmas-themed lipogrammatic exercise.[27]

In June 2013, career and personal finance author Alan Corey published "The Subversive Job Search",[28] the first non-fiction lipogram ever published.[29] The entire book was written without the letter Z.

In November 2013, artist and filmmaker Andrew Huang wrote and performed a rap song without using the letter E as a challenge posed by a YouTube viewer.[30] In April 2014, he released the sequel, this time without the letters A, I, O, or U, titled "Check Perec".[31]

In the ninth episode of the ninth season of How I Met Your Mother, "Platonish", Lily and Robin challenge Barney to obtain a girl's phone number without using the letter E.

A website called the Found Poetry Review asked each of its readers (as part of a larger series of challenges) to compose a poem avoiding all letters in the title of the newspaper that had already been selected. For example, if the reader was using the Washington Post, then they could not use the letters A, G, H, I, N, O, P, S, T, and W.[32]

Musician Zach Sherwin's song "No E" featuring American hip-hop artist George Watsky avoids using the letter "E" throughout the song's nearly 4-minute duration.[33]

Non-English examples[edit]

The seventh- or eighth-century Dashakumaracharita by Daṇḍin includes a prominent lipogrammatic section at the beginning of the seventh chapter. Mantragupta is called upon to relate his adventures. However, during the previous night of vigorous lovemaking, his lips have been nibbled several times by his beloved; as a result they are now swollen, making it painful for him to close them. Thus, throughout his narrative, he is compelled to refrain from using any labial consonants (प,फ,ब,भ,म).

In France, J. R. Ronden premièred la Pièce sans A (The Play without A) in 1816.[34] Jacques Arago wrote in 1853 a version of his Voyage autour du monde (Voyage around the world), but without the letter a.[35] Georges Perec published in 1969 La Disparition, a novel without the letter e, the most commonly used letter of the alphabet in French. Its published translation into English, A Void, by Gilbert Adair, won the Scott Moncrieff Prize in 1995.[36]

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 the syllable , and usable syllables decrease 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 the common word ஒரு (oru, "one", also used as the indefinite article), and there are no punctuation marks in the novel except dots. Later the novel was translated into English.[clarification needed]

Russian 18th-century poet Gavriil Derzhavin avoided the harsh R sound (and the letter Р that represents it) in his poem "The Nightingale" in order to render the bird's singing.

Russian author Sergei Dovlatov adopted a rule that no two words starting with the same letter should appear in any single sentence, inspired by Perec's experience.[clarification needed]

The seventh-century Arab theologian Wasil ibn Ata gave a sermon without the letter rāʾ (R).[37]

Non-literary lipograms[edit]

While a lipogram is usually limited to literary works, there are also chromatic lipograms, works of music that avoid the use of certain notes. Examples avoiding either the second, sixth, and tenth notes, or the third, seventh, and eleventh notes in a chromatic scale have been cited.[38]


A reverse lipogram is a type of constrained writing where each word must contain a particular letter in the text. In this sense it is the opposite of a lipogram. It is also referred to as antilipo.[39]


  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.100–101 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 978-0-803-28131-8
  6. ^ Athen., 14.624e-f, and see 10.455c-d
  7. ^ Swain, S.; Harrison, S.; Elsner, J. (2007), Severan Culture, Cambridge, p. 5, ISBN 978-0-521-85982-0.
  8. ^ "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p. 101. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803281318
  9. ^ Jacques Bens, Claude Berge, and Paul Braffort, History of the Lipogram, page 101, 102.
  10. ^ "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.102 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-803-28131-8
  11. ^ a b "Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature", p.103 University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-803-28131-8
  12. ^ See, for example Jacques Arago's Curieux voyage autour du monde(1853), omitting A.
  13. ^ a b Andrews, Dale (2013-02-26). "Constrained Writing". Washington: SleuthSayers.
  14. ^ Burton, Walt (25 March 1937), "Fifty Thousand Words Minus", Oshkosh Daily
  15. ^ Bellamy, Francis Rufus (March 1936), "Glancing Through", Fiction Parade and Golden Book Magazine, 2 (5): 62
  16. ^ Park, Ed (August 6, 2002), "Egadsby! Ernest Vincent Wright's Machine Dreams", The Village Voice
  17. ^ "Un marido sin vocación".
  18. ^ Jardiel, Enrique (1948), Para Leer Mientras Sube el Ascensor
  19. ^ Sorensen, Roy (October 1999), "Blanks: Signs of Omission", American Philosophical Quarterly
  20. ^ "Rethinking Writing", p.113–114 Continuum. ISBN 978-0-826-47924-2
  21. ^ Willard R. Espy, The best of an Almanac of words at play, "Mary had a Lipogram".
  22. ^ Susan Elkin,Lipograms: The Presence of Absence, page 15.
  23. ^ 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". Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  24. ^ "Do You Know What a Lipogram is?".
  25. ^ Mark Dunn, Ella Minnow Pea, MP Publishing, 2010
  26. ^ Christian Bӧk, Eunoia, Coach House Books, 2005
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "Career Press - The Best in Career, Business and Reference Guides for More than 20 Years".
  29. ^ Caroline (14 June 2013). "CAROLINELEAVITTVILLE: Alan Corey talks about 4 Fun Writerly Things Found in his fab new Book: The Subversive Job Search".
  30. ^ ANDREW HUANG (7 November 2013). "Rapping without the letter E" – via YouTube.
  31. ^ ANDREW HUANG (30 April 2014). "ONE-VOWEL RAP" – via YouTube.
  32. ^ 2 April 2014
  33. ^ Zach Sherwin (2014-06-24), No E featuring @gwatsky, retrieved 2017-05-22
  34. ^ [la Pièce sans A de J. R. Ronden]
  35. ^ Fabricio Cardenas, Vieux papiers des Pyrénées-Orientales, Le voyage sans A de Jacques Arago, 17 March 2015
  36. ^ "List of prize winners at the Society of Authors website". Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  37. ^ "خطبة واصل بن عطاء التي جانب فيها الراء". (in Arabic). Retrieved 2017-12-12.
  38. ^ Slonimsky, Nicolas (Winter 1968–1969), "Alexander Tcherepnin Septuagenarian", Tempo
  39. ^

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