Day 624: Lipograms – Or How To Avoid A L*tt*r For 1000 Words

originally published September 15, 2013

Ambitious? Yup. Crazy? You know it. How can an author concoct a full-on book whilst omitting that most popular ASCII swirl – that which shows up in an almost full swath of our words? You know what I’m talking about: it turns ‘bit’ into an act of chomping; it turns ‘pat’ into a pasty duck food apt for applying to a Triscuit; it turns ‘hug’ into a word for gigantic.

Could I pull it off? Is it within my hobbling Sunday morning skills, sitting in a glow from an almost-autumn sun, to plot out a kilograph of words – still witty, still topical, still skillful to charm my own brain – without using that which falls b’twixt ‘d’ and ‘f’? I highly doubt it. To accomplish this is a coup, okay, but I also think it would bring a pain within my rattling skull. This would insist upon grit, a touch of humility, and a cool and stubborn focus.

I don’t know if I got it in my digit-tips, but I’ll launch it past that bow and find out. This is a batshit-nuts try at a lipogram.

A lipogram is stunt of constraint, of rigorous word control. Is it fun? Possibly, though it’s taxing on a brain’s ability. This act of play is found in old books from that nation – you know, that classic civilization with pillars, philosophy and tzatziki. This guy, Tryphiodorus, was known for his lippogrammatic adaptation of that book… not Iliad, but that similar story by that guy with a similar autograph to that of Bart Simpson’s dad. You know.

Wow. This is tricky. My digits just waltz, shimmy and foxtrot around that button on my laptop, with such an attraction to simply plunking upon it and watching that swirl show up on my display. But I can’t – I can’t sail this far through this many words without punching that button, only to succumb now. I’m not an inaugural wordsmith in trying this, but I can truly pour a touch of compassion from my soul for that tiny batch of nutjobs who did try this. It’s hard to pull this off smoothly.

An author known as Wright (I can’t say his full monogram, thanks to my boundary for today’s kilograph) built a 50,000-word book, a work of fiction, whilst omitting that damn ASCII-swirl, just as I’m trying to do now. Gadsby is that book, and it is surprisingly smooth for having to stick to such a strict limitation. This narration flows so brilliantly, critics had to applaud not only Wright’s gimmick, but also his absorbing skills at cultivating swift drama and rich dialog.

A Spanish playwright (just his initials would push my words into illicit bounds, so I’ll just call him Ricky) sought to publish a handful of short fictions in 1926 and 1927. Ricky’s aim was for his individual fictions to omit a chunk of his ABC’s – no ‘A’, no ‘I’, no ‘O’, and so on. I don’t know if any of Ricky’s work is worth looking at; I can only do so much digging today as I try to thwart this itch to yank my hair out from paragraph to paragraph.

I can’t omit this Francophonic wordsmith, who in 1969 took on a similar task in his own vocabulary, which also has you-know-what as its most common word-part. His book is La Disparition. Franco-Man (again, can’t print his actual ‘nom’, if you catch my drift) claims Wright’s Gadsby was a primary inspiration for this work. An aggrandizing triumph was brought to our world by Gil Aldair, a man who took a shot at a translation of Franco-Man’s book, calling it A Void and sticking to that dastardly painful axiom of omitting that button adjoining ‘w’ and ‘r’.

Also, I must toss out a quip about Franco-Man’s hair. Okay, it was 1969 and drugs did a good job inspiring a lot of wacky coifs, but I’m holding out a big pair of up-facing thumbs for this guy. Kudos on the ‘do, Franco-Man.

Walt Abish’s book from 1974 is similarly grand. His first part consists only of words starting with ‘A’. Abish follows up with only words starting with ‘B’ and so on. I don’t know how Abish got through ‘Q’ or ‘X’. Just past his ‘Z’ part, Abish turns it around and strolls backwards to ‘A’ again. Talk about ambitious, or possibly just crazy.

How about that whacko author with a ‘G.B.’ monogram? I wish I could say his full autograph; this guy totally wins this kooky insanity. His pursuit was to adjust Britain’s mighty Bard’s works into a lipogrammatic sport. That play about that Danish guy with a ghost for a dad? G.B. did it without using ‘L’. G.B.’s variant on that play about that Moor had him skipping out on any ‘O’. That infamous Scottish play? His adaptation not only follows my limitation for today, but also has no ‘A’. I can’t fathom that at all. This was without doubt his most ballsy victory.

Placing limits such as this whilst trying to fashion a slab of writing that isn’t monotonous or just idiotic is not a straightforward affair. My palm is throbbing from smacking my own skull on so many occasions this morning, I might want an Advil soon. I can’t harbor how a pop song was put out with only ‘O’s – no sign of ‘A’s, ‘I’s, ‘U’s, or that individual you-know-what that I aim to banish from today’s writing. But “Ojo con los Orozco” hit pop-music radio back in ’97.

Okay, I had to drop a handful of math digits into my writing, and I know that saying ‘97’ out loud would call for that taboo sign to fall from a human’s lips. But this is still my phonic Olympics, and I’ll allow for a minor way out so that I can craft a fully lucid history of  lipograms. I allow no apology, nor do I admit to skirting my laws in this writing. A digit is a digit – how an individual says it is up to that individual.

So a lipogram such as this, skipping that most important tool of linguistic communication, is viably within my limits as a columnist. That’s good to know. Now I think I can justify a tall drink. A tasty alcoholic libation. I could also grow my hair in a way similar to Franco-Man; I won that right today. Huzzah.

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