A Common Policy.

Anna Aslanyan (a convenient name for this purpose) writes celebratorily and lipogrammatically [or rather, wrote on March 29] in the LRB blog:

La Disparition, a lipogrammatic classic, turns 50 today. You probably know who it’s by; if not, you can look it up to find out why I’m unwilling to say who did it. From its first publication on 29 March 1969, this book built a cult following. It’s primarily famous for what’s missing from it, a basic but important thing that forms a part of words you can’t usually do without. Staying strictly within this tight constraint, it says what it wants to say about its protagonist, Anton Voyl, and his vanishing act – a conundrum for his companions – in a grippingly ludic, rigidly formulaic way.

Various translations of La Disparition painstakingly follow its track, cutting all that has to go without ruining its plot. G. Adair’s A Void (1994), an award-winning translation and a scintillating work of art in its own right, is a linguistic triumph. La scomparsa – alas, its Italian translator must languish in anonymity, too – is just as skilful in its acrobatic wordplay. Moving on to Russian and Cyrillic, V. Kislov transforms La Disparition into Исчезание (a slightly artificial word), so now it’s o that’s out of action, a similarly difficult omission to sustain. Spanish plays its cards sans a, which is not as crucial a symbol, I’m told, but it’s still a hard trick to pull off.

The rest is at the link; as I said to John Cowan, who sent it to me, I am particularly fond of “Shakspar.” I linked to “a stern e-less review of Adair’s e-less translation of Perec’s e-less novel” back in 2004, but alas, the linked site has gone the way of all those e’s [but here it is — thanks, mollymooly!]. If you’re curious, the Russian version begins (the Преамбула, or Preamble):

разъясняющая читателю — правда, не сразу, — как наступает царствие Заклятия

Три кардинала, раввин, адмирал («каменщик братства М.»), три жалкие партийные пешки, чьими действиями управлял, сибаритствуя, английский и американский капитал, выступили в эфире и в прессе и заявили без стыда: «Так как грядет дефицит еды, население рискует навсегда расстаться с жизнью». Сначала, ну как тут не рассмеяться, весть приняли за шутку, за журналистскую «утку». А жизнь ухудшалась, ситуация усугублялась. Люди взялись за дубины и палки. «Хлеба!» — кричали массы, улюлюкали на власть имущих и капитал предержащих, хаяли правящие классы. Везде зачинались тайные кружки, секретные ячейки, брезжили антиправительственные идеи и бунтарские идейки. С наступлением сумерек публичные стражи уже не решались выбираться на улицу. В Масексе неизвестные лица даже напали на местную мэрию. В Ракамадуре разграбили склад: грабители вынесли и увезли на тачках бразильские зерна (в пачках), филе тунца (в банках), кефир (в пакетах), кукурузу (в брикетах), правда, все эти запасы уже стухли. В Нанси путем усечения шеи a la française казнили сразу тридцать трех (тридцать двух ли?) судей, затем спалили редакцию вечерней газеты; ей вменили в вину заискивание перед властями, так как та печатала декреты. Везде захватывались базы, склады, магазины.


  1. “alas, the linked site has gone the way of all those e’s”


  2. Don’t you think that almost-quotation from LRB wants another wording? “That is” might profitably supplant its Latin cousin (if omission will not do).

  3. My thanks to both of you; I have added the Wayback link and moved the offending bracket out of the blockquote (and thus eliminated “i.e.” to boot).

  4. I’ve flirted with the idea that i.e. and e.g. might serve as heterograms to be pronounced “that is” and “for example”. (The full Latin forms are clearly non-starters in speech – and although “ee gee” isn’t so bad, “eye ee” doesn’t really sit well on my tongue.)

  5. David Eddyshaw says


    I’ve always done exactly that; however, it has been pointed out to me by (I presume) well-intentioned friends and relations that I may not be altogether typical in such respects. We shall probably never know.

  6. When I am lecturing, if I write, “i.e.,” I will say, “that is.” I may sometimes do similarly with “e.g.”

    However, this is, at best, a partial example, since there is no general expectation that what I write down should be exact the same as what I say. The two versions of what I am trying to convey frequently differ, and I actually make a point to add some flourishes to the spoken versions to keep up students’ interest. For example, in discussing separation of variables, it is conventional to introduce the awkwardly named functions X(x), Y(y), and Z(z) (among others). When talking about these (and their derivatives: dX/dx, etc.), I end up saying “big X” and “little X” a lot, so I mix in some “capital X” and “lower case X”; and when those get tedious, I throw in occasional “majuscule” and “minuscule” to add a tiny bit of levity.

  7. Looking at Wikip’s List of Latin abbreviations

    English translation :
    lb. / d.

    Latin expansion :
    c. / etc.

    English literal :
    a.m. / et al. / Ph.D. / p.p. / pro tem. / P.S. / Q.E.D. / stat.

    English literal or translation :
    e.g. / i.e. / viz.

    ? English literal? :
    cf. / ibid. / id. / op. cit. / q.v. / sc. / inst. / prox. / ult.

  8. ? English literal? :

    ? indeed. Most people, even people who manipulate the symbols with confidence, would have little or no idea how to provide an English translation, and in the case of “ibid.” and “id.” I’m not sure what I’d say myself. They exist only as written markers, and in case of necessity are read out as is (“ibbid,” “kew vee,” etc.).

  9. Why do I say “eye-bid”? Does anyone else say that or is it just an illiteracism? (Damn, Google doesn’t think “illiteracism” is a word, either. Doubly illiterate.)

  10. I doubt there’s an official pronunciation, so any way you choose to say it is fine.

  11. John Cowan says

    there is no general expectation that what I write down should be exact the same as what I say.

    The Absent-Minded Professor: writes A, says B, means C; however D is in fact correct, as he knows perfectly well!

    Why do I say “eye-bid”?

    That’s exactly what I’d expect for a Latin(oid) word spelled like that. For example, if *ibid was a terrm for a goat of a species related to the ibex, I’d certainly pronounce the first vowel as PRICE. I have no idea why people (including me and the Hat) say “ibbid”.

  12. I probably say it that way because the i- is short in Latin. I can’t speak for others.

  13. The Absent-Minded Professor: writes A, says B, means C; however D is in fact correct, as he knows perfectly well!

    In mathematics, there is no general expectation that if the objects are assigned different symbols they should indeed be different objects. So the absent-minded professor might very well be entirely consistent, just wants to keep her options open.

  14. I doubt there’s an official pronunciation, so any way you choose to say it is fine.

    Why wouldn’t there be? Just because it’s an abbreviation? Every online dictionary I can find concurs that it’s pronounced with a short -i, which seems about as “official” as any other dictionary pronunciation, even if the word is seldom spoken.

  15. Oh, I guess that makes sense. Huh, interesting.

  16. John Cowan says

    A, B, C, and D are not mathematical variables in my example, but (meta)linguistic ones: in other words, it means “says one thing, writes another, means a third, but it should be a fourth.”

  17. ibid. is an abbreviation of ibidem, so maybe the common pronunciation reflects (former?) knowledge of the full form.

    Compare item from the same Latin stem, also with a short i in Latin, which is not an abbreviation and does have the eye pronunciation.

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