Friday 20 May 2022
ipograms are poetry or prose written (or rewritten) to omit one or more letters of the alphabet. Among the earliest lipograms known was the 24-book epic Odyssey by the Greco-Egyptian poet Tryphiodorus. The first book omitted alpha, the second, beta, and so forth. Félix de Lope de Vega Carpio (1562-1635), recognized as Spain’s first great dramatist and likely history’s most prolific writer of any genre, composed five lipogrammatic novels with each omitting a vowel: A, E, I, O, and U.
In the late 1930s Ernest Vincent Wright wrote and self-published a 50,000-word novel entitled Gadsby without the letter E. Pronouns and past tense verbs were a particular challenge for him, as was the expression of any number between six and thirty. Excerpt: “If youth, throughout all history, had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that ‘a child don’t know anything.’ ”
Skip to lipograms on: Mary had a little lamb ✧ Monday's child ✧ Jack and Jill ✧ Sing a song of sixpence ✧ “Friends, Romans, countrymen...” ✧ “Now is the winter of our discontent”
Mary had a little lamb
“Mary had a little lamb” was published in 1830 by magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, based on a situation supposedly experienced by a girl named Mary Sawyer, later Mrs. Mary Tyler. The original had twenty-four lines, though it was quite numbingly repetitive and you and I were most likely brought up on the eight-line abridgement.
This nursery rhyme was used as a test for the world’s first successful sound recording when Thomas Edison impressed it onto a tinfoil-wrapped cylinder with a sewing needle in late 1877.
Its brevity, universal familiarity, and richness of description have made it a favorite target for countless satirists, advertisers, and — of course — lipogrammarians.
1. Leaving out the letter O:
Mary had a little lamb
The bleached and chalky kind.
And everywhere she went, the lamb
Was rarely left behind.
In lecture hall with her he went
The rules they withheld heed.
It sparked the children’s merriment —
A student lamb, indeed.
2. Eliminating W:
Mary had a little lamb
A pearly, milky sort.
And every place that Mary reigned
The lamb did too hold court.
He spanieled her to school one day
Against all rule and custom.
It made the children laugh and play
To see that lamb amongst ‘em.
Leaving out A and T:
Muriel owned one mini-sheep
Whose fur resembled gypsum.
Wherever she hiked, her sheep likewise
Did shuffle, hop, or skip some.
He followed her in school, of course
Proscribed by codes of rule.
Her friends convulsed in gleeful chorus
While eyeing her sheep in school.
Finally, using only the LEFT HAND LETTERS on the keyboard.
Such abject orthographic poverty now forces Mary to change her name and get shipped off to college in Tempe, where she may well consider lobbying for little “Tweeder,” now worn and haggard, to be classified as an emotional support animal:
Greta reared a wee-est ewe
A faded, ear-tagged tatter.
As Greta darted, veered, traversed
Sweet Tweeder zested after.
Monday’s child is fair of face.
Tuesday’s child is full of grace.
Wednesday’s child is full of woe.
Thursday’s child has far to go.
Friday’s child is loving and forgiving.
Saturday’s child works hard for a living.
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
1. No Ls, Bs or Fs:
Monday’s heir has a handsome pate.
Tuesday’s heir does commiserate.
Wednesday’s heir has tears to shed.
Thursday’s heir sees roads ahead.
The next day’s heir is caring and winsome.
Saturday’s heir works hard at his income.
And the heir that arrives on the Day with the Sun
Is a radiant and happy and joyous one.
No Es or Vs (the latter to avoid having to leave lines 5 and 6 unchanged from the original):
Monday’s child is fair of skin.
Day Two’s child shrugs off all sin.
Following both, this child is sad.
Thursday’s child’s a trail-blazing lad.
Friday’s child sports a kindly disposition.
For Saturday’s child, salary’s his mission.
And Sunday’s child, on Sabbath born,
Is bonny and mild — not a whit forlorn.
Using only the letters that occur in the names of the days of the week: A, D, E, F, H, I, M, N, O, R, S, T, U, W and Y.
This eliminates 11 letters: B, C, G, J, K, L, P, Q, V, X and Z:
Jack and Jill
Here in the original I noticed the letters H and W seemed rather important for words like hill and water, so naturally those were the ones that had to go.
Jack and Nicole
Ascended a knoll
To fill a copper pail.
Jack’s footing bestirred,
A concussion occurred.
Nicole did too uptail.
Sing a song of sixpence
Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye.
Baked in a pie.
As the pie was opened
The birds began to sing.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before the King?
The King was in the counting house
Counting out his money.
The Queen was in the parlor
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes.
When along came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.
No Es or Gs:
Hum a hymn of half-crowns,
A pita full of bran,
Stuck within a flan.
As this flan was cut apart,
Said birds did chirp and caw.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To win a Tsar’s hurrah?
His Royal was in his bursary
To total up his booty.
His bonny consort, parlor bound,
Did sup of tutti-frutti.
Maid Astrid trod his tulip patch
To air his laundry out.
But a blackbird from afar alit
To snatch off Astrid’s snout.
No Is or Ss:
Croon a kreutzer canzonet,
A pocket full of coal,
Baked beneath a roll.
When the roll unfolded, well
They all began to peep —
An elegant entrée that made
The Monarch clap and leap.
The Monarch, under lock and key,
Computed all the money.
The parlor kept the Queen, who ate
Of bread and clover honey.
The flower garden held the wench,
Who hung the wool and lace.
A crow appeared and plucked the olfact’ry
Organ from her face.
No Ns, Ps, or Us:
Shriek a shekel shivaree,
A satchel brimmed with clover.
With cake were covered over.
As the cake was breached with care
The birds called forth, staccato.
‘Twas a greatly festive dish
To cheer a grim Mikado.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen” from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act III Scene II
Here’s Marc Antony’s famous eulogy, rewritten leaving out the letters O and R. Of necessity, Rome becomes The Seven Hills; thrice, twice and yet again; Lupercal, Faunus festival; crown, kingly diadem; and so forth. Can we be ambitious and honorable? No, merely acquisitive and estimable. And finally, approaching the nadir of that gentility scale, the closest O-less/R-less analog I could think of for Brutus was the alarmingly non-Latinate Butch.
“Now is the winter of our discontent” from Shakespeare’s Richard The Third
It’s unlikely Richard III of England (1452—1485) was quite the reptilian sociopath William Shakespeare portrayed in his play. Most of the trash talk about him emanated from Sir Thomas More and the Tudors who had gigantic axes to grind.
Someone certainly dispatched the two princes in the Tower, but historians finger other suspects in addition to Richard such as Henry VII. Shakespeare knew his business. Ambivalent, wishy-washy title characters wouldn’t have filled his galleries.
Below you’ll find the first couple of minutes of Richard the Third minus the letter O.
Among other things this forces some alteration of proper names.
Gloucester reverts to its Roman-era designation of Glevum; York to Eburacum.
George, Duke of Clarence, becomes Gyuri and Antony Woodville becomes Antal Treeville (Gyuri and Antal being the conveniently O-less Hungarian analogs of George and Antony).
Some lines remain unchanged, while at the opposite extreme others needed to mutate beyond mere O-lessness in order to preserve the overall meaning of the surrounding dialog.
Currently is the winter under which we languished,
Made majestic summer by this Eburacum sun;
And all the cumulus that blanketed the gables
In the deepest sea-trenches buried.
Presently are the scalps we wear encircled by laurel wreaths;
The arms we did bear, hung up as triumphal relics;
Stern alarums we gave, merry meetings they are presently,
As are the dreadful marches we launched, delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath preened his wrinkled façade;
And presently, rather than ride barbed steeds
Intending fearful adversaries’ spirits a fright,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
Attended by a lute’s prurient pleasing.
But I, having never been hale and hearty,
Never, either, fit facially in hand-glass-quality beauty;
I, that am rudely stampt, and wish that rapture’s majesty
Might strut within a tarty ambling nymph’s sight;
I, lacking in this fair symmetry,
My features cheated by dissembling nature,
Misshapen, unfinisht, did augment prematurely
Earth’s breathing human tally scarce half made up,
And that, sufficiently lamely and unstylish
That mutts bark at me as I halt by them —
Why, I, in this weak piping peaceful era,
Lack a delightful pastime,
Save spying my umbra in the sun,
And descanting after my ugliness.
And hence, since I’ll never qualify as a sweetheart,
Unsuited thus in entertaining these fair celebrated days,
I’ve determined that I’ll declare myself a villain,
And hate these days’ idle pleasures.
Schemes have I laid, activities menacing,
By drunken presentiments, libels and dreams,
Setting my sibling Clarence and the King
In deadly hate, each at each’s jugulars.
And, if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and underhanded,
This day might Clarence tightly be mew’d up,
Regarding a presentiment, which says that G
Descended after Edward the murderer shall be.
Dive, daydreams, may they be buried under my spirit.
Here Clarence enters.
Male sibling, greetings! What means this armed guard
That squires thy Grace?
His majesty, tendering my physical safety,
Hath assigned me this sentry,
That I may reluctantly enter the Citadel.
Under what cause?
Because my name is Gyuri.
Alack, my man, that fault is strictly external;
He might as well have seized thy baptismal elders.
Ah, belike his majesty hath certain intent
That thy Grace shall be new-christen’d in the Citadel.
But what’s the matter, Clarence? May I learn?
Yea, Richard, when I learn; since understand
As yet I haven’t myself; but, as I can learn,
He hearkens after presentiments and dreams;
And whence the alphabet primer plucks the letter G
And says a wizard tells him that by G
His issue disinherited might be;
And since my name, Gyuri, begins with G,
He surmises thus that I am he.
These, as I learn, and such-like trifles as these,
Have justified, in his highness’s mind, my jailing.