Sunday, December 9, 2018

Lipogrammatic Fun and Gams ;)

A few days back Jim Propp tweeted out the following:
I’m thinking of an irrational quantity important in calculus (it’s hard to discuss natural logarithms without it). What constant am I thinking of, and why am I talking about it in this odd roundabout way?

It seemed fairly clear that Jim was referencing “e,” but I completely missed (’til it was pointed out, DOH!) that he had composed a "lipogram" — a sentence deliberately leaving out a specific letter or letters, in this case, “e”. "E" is frequently used because it is the most common letter in the English alphabet, and thus more challenging.

Another mathematician, A. Ross Eckler also dabbled in lipograms, some of which are presented here (along with other fun wordplay):

In fact, I always find it intriguing how many mathematicians seem additionally innately interested in language play and in music. Music is the easier to understand since it clearly involves many mathematical aspects and patterns, and indeed several books address such. I suspect that language, and particularly the prosodic elements thereof (stress, pauses, intonation, rhythm, etc.), likewise may be governed by many mathematical rules that we have yet to fully appreciate or understand. Music, language, science, all very math-driven perhaps.

Anyway, returning to lipograms, several years ago NPR ran a contest asking listeners to create lipograms without the letter “i” and they got some great ones:

And Douglas Hofstadter once composed a lengthy autobiographic profile, again leaving out "e":

More famously, Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a 50,000 word novel, Gadsby, remarkably without a single "e"... certainly not something ever accomplished by that poet Cummings. ;) 

By the way, lipograms are just one of several categories under the heading of what's deemed "constrained writing."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

George Perec wrote La Disparition, a detective novel, without using "e", Gilbert Adair translated it into English as The Void; again shunning the most common letter in both languages.