Picture, if you will, someone writing hundreds of words which omit one specific letter. The missing letter is one of the five vowels, so the writer must choose his or her words with extreme precision. It is difficult enough to do this for five sentences, but whole books exist which use this device from beginning to end. The opening lines in this Blog Post use it. You might be noticing, by now, which vowel is missing.
Yes, it was the letter “a” that was absent from that opening paragraph, and it features in the word “lipogram”, the name given to this literary device. Like many words that have featured in these pages over the years, “lipogram” has come to my attention recently through quizzing. A few weeks ago I was flicking through a book of “University Challenge” questions and came across this:
“What term indicates literary works such as the 1969 novel La disparition by Georges Perec, which are written without using one particular letter of the alphabet – in this case the letter ‘e’?”
For the record, the book’s copyright page tells me that it was published in 2010 by BBC Books, and the Questions and Answers are © ITV Studios. The answer, as you now know, is “lipogram”, and I don’t recall hearing or reading it before last year.
The word also featured on an episode of ITV tea-time quiz show “The Chase” late last year. In the edition broadcast on 30 November 2021, during one of the Chaser rounds, we had this:
“What name is given to a work in which the writer intentionally leaves out a letter of the alphabet?”
A Lexigram B Lipogram C Logogram
The contestant and the Chaser (Paul Sinha) both opted for C. I might have done so as well six months ago. Now I know better. Having struggled to create a lipogram in the first paragraph of this piece (all 76 letters of it), I do not plan to use this device again.