It’s been quite some time since I tried this. In 2012, I got up the nerve to write one of my “Bison” columns without using one specific letter from the big list of 26 letters. The former time, I somehow pulled off the entire piece of writing with not one single use of the letter “e.” Except in the title: “Silent E,” which possessed two of them. You would be shocked to know how often you need the letter “e.” For some fun with your friends, try conversing for five minutes without using words with “e” in them. It’s not simple.
Most “Bison” columns need 600 to 800 words. Friends, you will now witness me pursue the objective of writing for this long without using the very first letter we were introduced to in school. If you don’t know which one it is, I’ll give some hints. It is missing from this list: B, C, D, E, F, G. Yes, I know 20 other letters would fit the description of being missing from the list, but it is the one beginning the whole lineup. If this hint won’t do, consider the letter you wish to see when you get one of your tests returned, or better yet, when the semester ends.
I would mention the term for the thing I’m trying to do, but of course it involves the forbidden letter. So, we must go the long route to get to it. The first third of the word is “lip.” The middle section of the word is “o.” The third portion is where we run into trouble. Think of the tiny, four-letter metric unit of weight or the kind of cookie you need to build smores. Now put everything together to get the word.
Reflecting on my previous experience with this foolishness, I see how much less difficult it is to write sensible sentences without this vowel versus writing without the letter “e.” If one of my fellow professors were critiquing it, my former effort would never receive the letter missing from this piece. Still, I forced myself to follow the rules of spelling (though I could not use the word “spelling”) plus the other set of rules English professors discuss endlessly, involving things like verb tenses or semicolons. But otherwise, I used much circumlocution, plus lots of synonyms. There’s one book which is your friend if you wish to try this, but I could not mention it without disobeying the rules.
If it seems impossible to write intelligent sentences without the word “the,” it is. Things get correspondingly bothersome without using those units of speech which come before nouns. The letter missing from this column, when it is used by itself, is this kind of word. Plus, the version of it used before vowels is forbidden, too. These omissions put crimps in one’s style, to be sure.
If you tried to write 800 words without the letter “z,” you would find no problem. This is why I did not try something so simple. But omitting the first of the five vowels, like I’m doing, is like requiring someone in history not ever to refer to kings or to insist the biology professor not mention cells.
Not surprisingly, such writing tends to focus on the process itself. So yes, in lieu of telling stories without using this letter, or writing instructions for putting together bookshelves or something (where I could not tell you to insert peg “B” into slot “you-know-which”), I’m writing in circles to help you see how fun it is to do this. It seems my definition of “fun” gets more pitiful every week.
In 2012, I ended my “Silent E” column with poetry. I wrote one limerick, though of course I couldn’t use the word. I will try to outdo the previous effort, ending this column with one longer poem. Here is my love sonnet, which revises one from the English poet everyone knows, the guy who wrote “Othello.” Look up Sonnet 18 if you wish to judge my effort.
My friend, you’re like some welcome summer breeze.
You well outshine the sun but not so hot.
Rough winds do blow, which messes up the trees,
Plus summer’s never long enough — it’s not.
Sometimes, the sun’s so scorching it will burn,
Or clouds will block the yellow shining sphere,
Likewise, we first look good but then we turn,
With wrinkles there, discolored blotches here.
But your forever summer won’t grow dim,
Nor lose those twinkling eyes which I love so.
Don’t even think of dying — it’s too grim,
But if you must, there is one thing I know.
If folks need me your loveliness to show ‘em,
Then I will freely point to this here poem.