The Pleasures of the Pangram

Have you ever tried coming up with a really great pangram? It’s surprisingly difficult!

A pangram — aka a ‘holoalphabetic sentence” (thanks Wikipedia!) — is simple to define; fiendish to devise. It’s a sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet at least once.

You’ve probably heard one particularly infamous pangram: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

This is apocryphally used to test typewriters or something. There now doesn’t seem to be much practical use, but of course that’s not the point. The pangram presents a challenge: how concise a sentence can you craft? How clever a turn of phrase can you fold into such a slim sentence? It’s at once minimalist and maximalist, a perfect little puzzle for language lovers.

Wikipedia tells me that, of course, “pangrams exist in every alphabet-based language.” I’ve only looked up English ones, but I’d be interested to see how the flavor of the exercise changes across language context. For non-alphabet based languages…what might be an interesting equivalent?

There’s a great tool here to easily validate a pangram and check its character count:

The above-mentioned pangrammatic classic clocks in at just 33 letters.

The coolest pangram I’ve come across is more impressive both in letter count and language:

“Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.” — packing a wallop of dark fury in just 29 letters.

Of course the shortest possible “perfect” pangram, at least in English, would be exactly 26 characters. As per the examples on the above page, most pangrams that short use obscure words and are semi- (or entirely) nonsensical, which definitely steals some of the appeal.

I spent some time a while ago coming up with pangrams, just for fun. I’m happy with a few, as far as phrasing goes, but I fell woefully short on the rubric of concision. My shortest was initially 48 characters, most were 50- or 60-something. Just now I came up with a slightly shorter one…next time will aim for sub-40!

Here are mine, in ascending length order:

  • Piquant flavors mix: garlic, a dab of jam, key—what zest! (43 characters)
  • Liquid zit juice spurts all over my big waxy face — thank God! (48 characters)
  • Mine champion of world, exquisite major key, zero go above you (50 characters)
  • Bejeweled ghoulish ax murderers victimize fake phantom query (53 characters)
  • Quiz my dear aunt Viv about foreign risk, she’ll wax philosophic joy (55 characters)
  • Hark! What excellent vim and zest — badge of perfection, quotient of my joy (59 characters)
  • The Pequod rocked; the jib swung the ship’s axis; a zephyr leveled foamy sea (60 characters)
  • Zany Ahab cried: “Fuck mate, that ginormous whale vexes me, jump in, kill it quick!” (63 characters)

Want to try your hand at making one? Let me know what you come up with!

Appendix — additional interesting pangram resources: