Lipogram? No Way!
Or in this case, no E.
This is an entry in the Saturday series called “Off the Clock.” A newsletter for word nerds. Push that button to magically receive more words.
If you were challenged to write something without using a certain letter of the alphabet, how many words do you think you could complete?
One hundred? Maybe 500?
I suppose it would depend on the letter. If I asked you to write something that avoided Z, Q, or any other high-value Scrabble tile, it wouldn’t be an issue.
But how far could you make it without using the letter E?
Try 50,00 words.
That’s the record length of a lipogram—a work that deliberately avoids certain letters.
But in this case, the work omitted the most frequently used letter in the English language.
In 1939, Ernest Vincent Wright wrote the novel Gadsby — a book of 50,000 words — without a single use of the letter E.
He was committed to it, too: he wouldn’t even use a word like “Mr.”, as its full-length version includes the offending letter.
Nor could he refer to any quantity between six and thirty.
He even took famous sayings and reworded them; such as John Keats’ “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” became “a charming thing is a joy always.”
While Wright was no poet, Gadsby was well received, and its structure and composition were considered smooth, without halting parts. An amazing accomplishment for a lipogram — particularly one omitting E.
In “The Word Games People Play,” I mentioned how Sherlock Holmes was able to crack the Dancing Men code by first finding the letter E within the messages, due to its prominence.
But can you imagine if Abe Slaney, the code writer in that story, had been inspired as Ernest Vincent Wright had?
We might still be awaiting the solution to that puzzle.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.