What Is a Lipogram?

A lipogram is a unique form of writing that intentionally avoids using a particular letter or letters of the alphabet. This creative constraint challenges writers to craft their message with care, often leading to surprising and inventive results. Imagine the ingenuity required to pen a tale without the letter 'e'! How might such a limitation transform your own communication? Join us to find out.
A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

A lipogram is a specific kind of construction in literature or other writing that features text that deliberately excludes one or more letters in an alphabet. This is a broad type of label for a wider category of communications or written works, and the technique of excluding letters can be used in many different ways. Although the practice of creating lipograms may go back more than one century, many instances of this technique come from the twentieth century, where authors began to experiment with how exclusions of letters ultimately affect writing.

In general, writers who use the technique of lipogram writing must search harder for words that fit designated meanings without compromising the letter omission strategy. For example, a writer trying to replicate the work of another author may need to take a word like “attempt” in a text, and change it into another word that, while having a similar meaning, does not include the letter “e.” The writer will typically use a word with a somewhat general utility, such as, in this case, “try.” By multiplying this simple task some many thousands of times, it’s possible for someone who has never written a book-length lipogram to imagine what it would be like to tackle this challenging work of literary creation.

Shakespeare's writing of "Hamlet" without the letter “l” is a lipogram.
Shakespeare's writing of "Hamlet" without the letter “l” is a lipogram.

Many of the most familiar and popular examples of lipograms are in the form of English-language novels. Some of the most prominent examples of these novels omit an integral English-language vowel, often the letter “e”—as a primary example. A novel called, “A Void,” which was itself a translation of a French work, achieved prominence as a book-length manuscript that did not include the letter “e.”

In addition to original works and translated works, some classic works in the English language have been rewritten to exclude certain vowels. These include some of the works of William Shakespeare. For example, Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet was rewritten without the letter “l,” as a further exercise in how restricting alphabetical choices impacts a text.

Some specific kinds of lipogram are also especially noted by linguists and other academics. This includes what’s called the pangrammatic lipogram. A pangrammatic lipogram deliberately includes all of the letters of the language, without the single omitted letter.

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    • Shakespeare's writing of "Hamlet" without the letter “l” is a lipogram.
      By: davehanlon
      Shakespeare's writing of "Hamlet" without the letter “l” is a lipogram.