(n.) a sentence containing all 26 letters of the alphabet
This lovely bit of word play cropped up on the HH feed recently:
...and it proved so popular we couldn’t let it go by unnoticed.
This is an example of a pangram, or a holalphabetic sentence—namely, one that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet—the most famous example of which is of course the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
It is thought to have its origins in the late nineteenth century and first appeared in print in the Boston Journal in 1885. Ever since then, word nerds everywhere have been on the hunt for the Holy Grail of pangrammatic sentences: one that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet. No more, no less.
At 29 letters, the “waltzing nymphs” example from above comes tantalizingly close (and could come even closer if you switch out dumb for bad), and there are actually plenty of similar examples of pangrams either side of the 30-letter milestone:
My ex pub quiz crowd gave joyful thanks (32)
Vamp fox held quartz duck just by wing (31)
How quickly daft jumping zebras vex (30)
Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow (29)
Glib jocks quiz nymph to vex dwarf (28)
So is a perfect 26-letter pangram possible? Yes—but...
Obviously the shorter the sentences become, the more you have to be prepared to (a) let grammar and syntax take something of a back seat; (b) allow for proper nouns and abbreviations to take some of the strain; and (c) raid the dictionary for some really, really peculiar words. If you’re happy to tick all of those boxes, however, a perfect pangram is actually entirely possible:
Glum Q. Schwarzkopf jinxed by tv
Cwm fjord bank glyphs vext quiz
Blowzy night-frumps vex’d Jack Q
Confused? Well, imagine Q. Schwarzkopf and Jack Q are people’s names. A cwm is a steep-sided Welsh valley or river basin. Vext and vex’d are archaic spellings of vexed, and so just mean “angered”. If you’re blowzy, you have a ruddy complexion. A glyph is a carved sculpture or symbol. And you can use the word quiz to mean “an eccentric or curious person”.
So Quentin Schwarzkopf is apparently very unhappy because his television set has brought him back luck. Some carved symbols, like those found on the banks of fjords, have not only been found in a Welsh valley, but have annoyed a noted eccentric. Some red-faced frumpish nocturnal revellers have annoyed someone named Jack Quillian.
And there’s not a quick brown fox in sight.