The Phrontistery

Books by Stephen Chrisomalis
Numerical Notation: A Comparative History Human Expeditions: Inspired by Bruce Trigger

A Loquacious Location of Lipograms

Main Origins Links Works Compositions


Looking at this paragraph with confusion? I'll aid you slightly. Is any odd gap, lacuna or omission obvious to you? Got it now? No?

That's right - this is a lipogram - a book, paragraph or similar thing in writing that lacks a symbol, particularly (but not always) that symbol fifth in rank out of our 26 script-signs (found amidst 'd' and 'f'), which stands for a sound such as that in 'kiwi'. I won't bring it up right now, to avoid spoiling it. I could play with lipograms morning, noon and night. So it is with joy that I submit to you this location – truly, a loquacious location – for lipogram fanatics to join as a unit to glorify this form of wordplay.

As far as I know, this location has a distinct honour: it contains such an abundant quantity of words without using this taboo glyph that no WWW location can outmatch it. As of right now, it contains a thousand and a half words, and past, without any hint of that symbol. Naturally, many long lipograms abound in print, including books, rhyming stanzas, and similar works of fiction. Most notably, La Disparition (A Void) by a famous author of a writing group known as Oulipo, stands out as a paragon of lipogrammaticity. I cannot aim to surpass it, but as a fan, I can look upon it with admiration.

Writing lipograms is, as you might think, a difficult task. In my lingo, 2/3 of all words contain that symbol which I am now avoiding, including many common pronouns and similar words commonly found in writing. Without using abbrvs., slang and odd jargon, which most purists scorn as cop-outs, it's darn tough to impart information in a stylistically satisfying way. Stripping paragraphs of particular symbols has a way of making looking at lipograms jarring. No doubt about it, a lipogram is a particularly arduous form of wordplay.

Having said this, acquiring a knack for lipogram composition isn't that hard, and may assist you in your non-lipogrammatic writing. Not to say that I'm without aid in this activity; my dictionary is always handy, as is a book with synonyms for words. And, notwithstanding any drawbacks flowing from passing many an hour looking for unusual ways to say ordinary things, it might aid your socialization skills. Chicks truly dig lipogrammatists, or so my old lady says.

Sadly, a handful of critics find lipograms ridiculous, ugly or without worth (as fiction or as wordplay). To such sorry saps, I say only that in constraining your thoughts and writing in a particular way aids in promoting branching paths of thought, thus amplifying vocabulary and instilling adroit linguistic skills among both young and old. By putting into praxis ways of thinking that wouldn't occur normally, lipograms call for authors to look at writing as an activity in ways that, frankly, wouldn't occur to such niggling adjudicators of linguistic conduct.

Withholding a symbol found in so many words has drastic symptoms that disallow many topics of discussion. (From this point on, I'll stick to talking about that sign I'm skipping right now). Using math is almost an impossibility; you can only maintain 19 of all non-digital words for cardinal quantity up to 100, and hardly any at all past that point, though using digits is a good way out. You can go north or south, but talking about circumnavigating our world latitudinally is an impossibility. How can I possibly talk about various kinds of malt liquor, or parts of my body, without it? To top it all off, as an Anglo, strict prohibitions apply to naming of my own form of linguistic communication. I ought to thank my lucky stars that I'm not writing in lipogrammatic français, though, which holds on to only an octal portion of its original vocabulary.

But all is not lost. Surprisingly, profanity is mostly intact. As a practicing lipogrammatist, you'll find you want many such words, for it is a task so awkward as to call for cussing and cursing on a normal basis. A world map is truly a blissful oasis; my country (Canada) is totally satisfactory, as with most toponyms for nations (111 out of 186, by my count); with a bit of work, USA, UK, and so on, can still show up, and with twin island nations Trinidad and Tobago and Antigua and Barbuda (both with 17 glyphs) topping my list for prolongation. Musicians (particularly classical artists), astonishingly, hold firm as topics of discussion, with Bach, Bartok, Brahms, Chopin, Dvorak, Haydn, Holst, Liszt, Mozart, Orff, Puccini, Rachmaninov, Rossini, Scarlatti, Schumann, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi void of my lost non-consonant.

An additional branch of family Lipogrammatica consists of univocalics. This form of wordplay is akin to a lipogram, but contains a solitary sign that's not a consonant. To wit, a univocalic might omit 'a', 'i', 'o', and 'u' (but what about 'y'?). A univocalic has a sonorant quality that a lipogram lacks, so you must look at a lipogram, but contrarily, a univocalic is both auditory and visual, and has a strong sound if said aloud. Univocalic writing is hard to pull off, but if it's good, its payoff is gigantic.

My First Lipogram

In 1996, prior to my finishing my virtual dictionary (which I now call IHL), my dad, wanting to find a word signifying such a notion, thought of writing his son in inquiry. At first, I couldn't think of such a word, but soon, I found 'lipogram', and sought to inform him of my findings. My amusing solution was as follows:

Salutations! Upon joyously spotting your communication within my inbox, I promptly took a look through my dictionary of unusual words (which I'll not finish until Christmas), and thus can say this to you: A "lipogram" is any work in writing which omits all words containing a particular symbol, including any such work which omits that symbol which was in your particular inquiry. And, in stating that various authors' books and similar works of writing smack of lipogrammatism, you say a profound truth. Alas, this important art has lost its status within this day's authors' outputs. Still, by striving to tutor our youth in this lost skill, lipograms may soon find vindication, and our travail today may finish in victory tomorrow. So, in closing, I say this to you: Fight on, fair sir, for our aim is virtuous and just!

Damn, that's tough! Until Friday,
Your Son

To which my dad said,

Thanks for th* swift action on my plight. I look forward to your arrival on Friday. Got to go now.

If only my dad had said "your" swift action, his short word of thanks would not look so grossly spoilt. Alas!


  • Of all lipograms consisting of a singular word, that which I think is most long is 'transubstantiationalists', with 24 symbols, though "transubstantiationalistically" might surpass it, if it was (pardon my non-subjunctivity) a valid word. Can you surmount this total? Not I. But lo, what is this? If you allow 'floccinaucinihilipilification', which, though jocular, many think is valid, including word-scholars of Oxford's dictionary, you can surmount it by a handful, and thus count 29 symbols.
  • Combining two difficult ways of manipulating words, "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!" is both univocalic and palindromic. So is "Ana, nab a banana.", but "Madam, I'm Adam" isn't, alas.
  • By this point, you all know what script-sign is most difficult to omit in today's Anglo-Saxon patois. T, A, O, I, and N follow it as most common in writing, thus most difficult to omit. No known lipogram omits all six most popular symbols. It's also tough to chuck out 'S' (for plurals), 'R' (for comparisons) and 'D' (for conclusions of past actions).

Non-Lipogrammatic Links

As many topics involving lipograms do not allow any possibility of discussion without using particular symbols, I'm bringing forward a bunch of non-lipogrammatic locations to distract and instruct you.

  • For a non-lipogrammatic discussion of word origins for 'lipogram', click this link.
  • For a non-lipogrammatic list of WWW links about lipograms and univocalics, click this link.
  • For a non-lipogrammatic listing of lipogrammatic works of fiction, click this link.
  • For a non-lipogrammatic compilation of lipogram submissions, click this link.
  • For a long submission from Bob B., click this link.

Lipogram and Univocalic Submissions

Now that you know all about lipograms, I am glad to say that I'm providing a spot for you to submit your own lipograms and univocalics (in Anglo-Saxon idiom only). You may submit a word, a paragraph, or a short work of fiction or non-fiction on any topic, so long as any particular symbol is missing. It is most difficult to avoid that symbol which I am now omitting, but I will not limit you in this way (though omitting 'z', 'q', 'x', and so on, is not particularly gratifying). I will post intriguing submissions at this link as soon as I obtain any. Try to avoid too much vulgarity, so stick to "PG" rating stuff, OK? Your lipogram's duration isn't that crucial, but originality is all-important. You may submit as many lipograms as you wish. I trust that our mutual aspirations for promoting lipograms among our virtual community will fulfil your thirst for glory. Mail it to this account.

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