How’s your lipogram, Mary?

Charles Alexander
By | 2013-05-16T09:00:00-04:00 May 16th, 2013|Opinions, Parting Glances|

Parting Glances

It’s one of our crazy, straight cultural givens that a high pitched “s” sound is associated with being gay. It’s the lisp that goes with the limp wrist.
Any male who lingers a nanosecond too long in his pronunciation of out 19th letter of the alphabet is suspected of being a queen by those who constantly twirl the dials of their unlicensed gaydar.
It never seems to occur to these ham operators that the bleeps appearing on their “I can spot a gay a mile away” radar screen might just be caused by an overbite or a cracked upper plate rather than by sexual orientation.
Interestingly, a touch of falsetto or lisping sometimes is fashionable. Take Castilian Spanish for example. Urban legend has it that King Ferdinand of Spain had a pronounced lisp. Soon everybody at court was lisping “thinco” instead of “cinco”. Today the sound is considered beautiful vocal brocade.
But that hissing “s” sound bugs certain people. It certainly bugged the 6th century B.C. Greek poet Lasus of Hermione. He couldn’t stand it, and was careful in his poetry to omit the letter whenever possible. He wrote a “Hymn to Demeter” without using the offending over-ring . (Whether the goddess deigned to notice the double s in Lasus’s name – note here the additional apostrophe s – is not recorded for posterity.)
As a result, Lasus became the world’s first lipogrammatist. A lipogram (not a Western Union kiss collect) is a literary work in which one or more letters are excluded. If there’s a Lipogram Hall of Fame, its star is a long-forgotten – somehow justifiably ignored, herewith briefly resurrected for one-upmanship, cocktail conversation – author, Ernest Vincent Wright.
E.V.W. wrote a 267-page novel called, “Gadsby”. He also wrote, “The Wonderful Fairies of the Sun” and “The Fairies That Run the World and How They Do It.” (The pronoun is left to contemporary reader conjecture, whether it be sex or female impersonation.)
The merit of “Gadsby” (other than the fact that its rarity makes it a valuable book collectible) is that the novel was written without using the letter e, the most frequently occurring vowel in English (used 219 times in this PG). Claimed Wright, “the letter’s just not that damned important.”
“Gadsby” was brainstormed during an extended stay in a California home for World War l vets. Wright wired his typewriter e key shut. The five and a half months it took to write 50,100 words drove him over the brink. He blew a fuse the day his book was published in 1939.
A reviewer said “Gadsby” read as if “written by a wooden eared alien.” Sample: “And so, coming to Broadway, a booming brass drum and sounds of singing told a small Salvation Army unit carrying on amidst Broadway’s night shopping crowds.
“Gadsby, walking toward this group, saw a young girl, back toward him, just finishing a soulful oration, saying . . . ‘and I can say this to you, for I know what I am talking about: for I was brought up in a pool of liquor.”
E-gad! I’ll drink to that.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander