What's a Lipogram?

"The Wonderful O" by James Thurber
In this book, pirates take over the island of Ooroo and ban the letter "o".

Book cover from James Thurber

A text that purposefully excludes a particular letter of the alphabet is called a lipogram. The adjective is lipogrammatic. A contemporary example of a lipogram is Andy West's novel Lost and Found (2002), which does not contain the letter e.


From the Greek, "missing letter"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The earliest lipograms are thought to have been composed in the sixth century BC, but none has survived; maybe they were never actually written down, only imagined, to circulate among the clerisy as instant legends of verbal skill. . . . [T]he lipogram should be a purposeless ordeal undertaken voluntarily, a gratuitous taxing of the brain, and the severer the better. It should make the business of writing not pleasanter but harder."
    (John Sturrock, "Georges Perec." The Word From Paris: Essays on Modern French Thinkers and Writers. Verso, 1998)
  • Gadsby: A Lipgram on E
    "Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion; a man with boys and girls of his own; a man of so dominating and happy individuality that Youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl. It is a story about a small town. It is not a gossipy yarn; nor is it a dry, monotonous account, full of such customary 'fill-ins' as 'romantic moonlight casting murky shadows down a long, winding country road.' Nor will it say anything about tinklings lulling distant folds; robins caroling at twilight, nor any 'warm glow of lamplight' from a cabin window. No. It is an account of up-and-doing activity; a vivid portrayal of Youth as it is today; and a practical discarding of that worn-out notion that 'a child don't know anything.'
    "Now, any author, from history's dawn, always had that most important aid to writing: an ability to call upon any word in his dictionary in building up his story. That is, our strict laws as to word construction did not block his path. But in my story that mighty obstruction will constantly stand in my path; for many an important, common word I cannot adopt, owing to its orthography."
    (Ernest Vincent Wright, from Gadsby, 1939--a story of more than 50,000 words that does not contain the letter e)
  • "Most common of all marks from A to Z,
    It's tyrant to orthography, and smug
    That not a thing of worth is said without
    Our using it. . . ."
    (Daniel J. Webster, "A Lipogram: Writing Without It." Keeping Order on My Shelf: Poems and Translations. iUniverse, 2005)
  • A Void: Another Lipogram on E
    "Noon rings out. A wasp, making an ominous sound, a sound akin to a klaxon or a tocsin, flits about. Augustus, who has had a bad night, sits up blinking and purblind. Oh what was that word (is his thought) that ran through my brain all night, that idiotic word that, hard as I'd try to put it down, was always just an inch or two out of my grasp--fowl or foul or Vow or Voyal?--a word which, by association, brought into play an incongruous mass and magma of nouns, idioms, slogans and sayings, a confusing, amorphous outpouring which I sought in vain to control or turn off but which wound around my mind a whirlwind of a cord, a whiplash of a cord, a cord that would split again and again, would knit again and again, of words without communication or any possibility of combination, words without pronunciation, signification or transcription but out of which, notwithstanding, was brought forth a flux, a continuous, compact and lucid flow: an intuition, a vacillating frisson of illumination as if caught in a flash of lightning or in a mist abruptly rising to unshroud an obvious sign--but a sign, alas, that would last an instant only to vanish for good."
    (Georges Perec, La Disparition--a 300-page novel that does not contain the letter e; translated by Gilbert Adair as A Void)
  • 181 Missing Os
    "N mnk t gd t rb r cg r plt.
    N fl s grss t blt Sctch clips 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 slp-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 cits rlls,
    Nr cmmn frg cncct lng prtcls."
    (Unknown, quoted by Willard R. Espy in The Game of Words. Grosset & Dunlap, 1972)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What's a Lipogram?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lipogram-1691244. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). What's a Lipogram? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lipogram-1691244 Nordquist, Richard. "What's a Lipogram?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-lipogram-1691244 (accessed June 10, 2023).