Pangrams and Scrabblegrams

Augustus De Morgan’s A Budget of Paradoxes contains these pangrams, which use each letter of the English alphabet once each. Being happily an inhabitant of Ye Olden Times, he gets to cheat by using “u” for “v” and “i” for “j” — two extra vowels, and two of the hardest consonants gone!

Dr Whewell and I amused ourselves, some years ago, with attempts. He could not make sense, though he joined words: he gave me

Phiz, styx, wrong, buck, flame, quid.

I gave him the following, which he agreed was “admirable sense.” I certainly think the words would never have come together except in this way:

I, quartz pyx, who fling muck beds.

I long thought that no human being could say this under any circumstances. At last I happened to be reading a religious writer (as he thought himself) who threw aspersions on his opponents thick and threefold. Heyday! came into my head:— this fellow flings muck beds; he must be a quartz pyx. And then I remembered that a pyx is a sacred vessel, and quartz is a hard stone, as hard as the heart of a religious foe-curser. So that the line is the motto of the ferocious sectarian, who turns his religious vessels into mud-holders, for the benefit of those who will not see what he sees.

I can find no circumstances for the following, which I received from another:

Fritz, quick, land! hew gypsum box.

From other quarters I have the following:

Dumpy quiz! whirl back fogs next.

This might be said in time of haze to the queer little figure in the Dutch weather-toy, which comes out or goes in with the change in the atmosphere. Again,

Export my fund! Quiz black whigs.

This Squire Western might have said, who was always afraid of the whigs sending the sinking fund over to Hanover. But the following is the best: it is good advice to a young man, very well expressed under the circumstances:

Get nymph; quiz sad brow; fix luck.

Which in more sober English would be — Marry; be cheerful; watch your business.

In modern times, nobody uses “j” or “v” as vowels anymore; but on the plus side, we’ve got television. So we have the famous pangram

Mr. Jock, TV quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx.

This pangram was originally (Word Ways 12:4 (1979), “Kickshaws” column, headline “Using up the alphabet”) credited to “Clement Wood, author of the most popular rhyming dictionary […] 91 and still active”; but the rhymer born 1888, Clement Richardson Wood, in fact died in 1950. Now, there was a whole other lineage of Clement Biddle Woods, of which Jr. (1925–1994) was president of the Harvard Lampoon; perhaps the pangrammatist was one of them. The Word Ways entry of 1979 claims to have been “relayed” by Willard Espy, who presumably ought to have known, but maybe it got muddled along the way. (Do you know the truth? Email me!)

In Word Ways 20:2 (1987), Maxey Brooke presents many more variations on the pangram. Jeff Miller’s collection is also quite impressive, as is the collection in Truth 19:479 (March 4, 1886).


Last year, the Washington Post Style Invitational (now defunct) introduced me to “Scrabblegrams,” an art form mastered by Dave Cohen, in which the goal is to make a sentence using all 100 tiles of a single Scrabble set (including the two blanks, which can stand for any letter). I made a little HTML helper for producing Scrabblegrams without a physical set of tiles, which allowed me to bang out the following bagatelle, filling in more of Mr. Jock’s backstory:

Romeo Jacques (degreed zoologist, ex-shikari, and Channel Two trivia moderator) guns up five wapiti, but barely any felines.

This is nothing on Dave, of course, who regularly — daily! — composed masterpieces such as this mnemonic for the digits of pi:

Now I know a ratio (use X/D): Periphery of circle (X) above the level diameter (D). Justifies amazing equations. Got no end, arguably.

Posted 2023-01-02