Posted by: episystechpubs | October 1, 2015

Editor’s Corner: Lipogram

I saw the word lipogram and couldn’t imagine what it meant. My first thought was that “lipo” meant fat, and “gram” meant letter. A fat letter? Nope. Here is the Merriam-Webster definition and etymology of lipogram:

: a writing composed of words not having a certain letter (as the Odyssey of Tryphiodorus which had no alpha in the first book, no beta in the second, and so on)

Middle Greek lipogrammatos, adjective, lacking a letter, from Greek lipo- 2lipo- + -grammatos (from grammat-, gramma letter)

I wanted to see an example, so I searched a little more, and found an article on Wikipedia. Here are some details from the article that I hope will clarify lipograms for you.

A lipogram (from Ancient Greek: λειπογράμματος, leipográmmatos, "leaving out a letter") is a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting in 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. Larousse defines a lipogram as a "literary work in which one compels oneself strictly to exclude one or several letters of the alphabet." Extended Ancient Greek texts avoiding the letter sigma are the earliest examples of lipograms.

Writing a lipogram may be a trivial task when avoiding uncommon letters like Z, J, Q, or X, but it is much more difficult 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.


A more modern example of lipogrammatic rewrites of famous literary works is Gyles Brandreth’s reworking of Shakespeare’s works as lipograms: Hamlet without the letter I (e.g., "To be or not to be, that’s the query").

So you aren’t just removing a letter and testing the reader’s ability to fill in the blanks, you are actually writing the text using synonyms and avoiding the use of the letter altogether. Sounds frustrating, but for some of the word nerds out there, it might be a fun challenge!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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