From bad to verse, via pangrams and holorimes

Miles Kington
Thursday 25 September 2003 00:00 BST

To recap: on Tuesday I told you that a "pangram" was a sentence that uses all the letters in the alphabet. I told you that "the quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog", although the most famous one, is not the shortest one known to man, and that there is one that is a letter shorter, namely: "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs." That is 32 letters long.

I hasten to add that I take no credit for any of this. I got it from a splendid website called A Word A Day, which, although based in America, is masterminded by a man from India called Anu Garg. Earlier this year he got a fellow wordsmith called Richard Lederer to do a guest appearance and give us words on wordplay, so Mr Lederer introduced the idea of a pangram and then gave us the two above.

But they were not the shortest he knew of. He knew one of 31 letters, as follows: "Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz."

Getting a bit tortured and meaningless? You wait till you see his shorter ones. Here they are:

"How quickly daft jumping zebras vex." (30 letters)

"Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim." (29)

"Waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex Bud." (28)

"Bawds jog, flick quartz, vex nymph." (27)

If you think that's pushing it a bit, here is his suggestion for a 26-letter pangram: "Mr Jock, TV quiz PhD, bags few lynx." It actually makes sense; at least, it does if you can imagine a television quiz expert wanting to go shooting lynx.

Mr Lederer clearly thinks that there may be better ones available, because he adds: "If you can come up with a 26-letter pangram that makes easy sense and does not resort to names, initials or mutant words, please rush it to me at" I offer this splendid chance to you all. I shall not be competing.

Another wordplay word that was new to me from the A Word A Day website was "cento", which is defined as a literary work, often a poem, in which each line is taken from a different author. What on earth could this strange mutant beast look like? Well, here are the first two verses of the sample offered up by A Word A Day:

The boy stood on the burning


His fleece was white as snow,

He stuck a feather in his hat,

John Anderson, my Jo!

"Come back, come back," he

cried in grief,

From India's coral strands,

The frost is on the pumpkin and

The village smithy stands...

Good stuff, I think you'll agree. Strangely evocative. Like some more? No problem.

Am I a soldier of the cross

From many a boundless plain?

Should auld acquaintance be


Where saints immortal reign?

Ye banks and braes o'bonny


Across the sands o'Dee,

Can you forget that night in

June -

My country, 'tis of thee!

While we are on the subject of forms of wordplay, I must mention one verse form that you never seem to see in English language collections, and that is the "holorime". What this means is two lines of verse which rhyme with each other from beginning to end. This is something the French are especially good at, maybe because it works better in French, as in:

L'un dit: comment cela

se mène?

Lundi commence la semaine.

I have been searching the internet for examples of the technique in English, and the only one I could find was one "by British humorist Miles Kington". There's fame! I'd forgotten all about it. It was called "A Scottish Lowlands Holiday ends in Enjoyable Inactivity", and here it is:

In Ayrshire hill areas, a cruise,

eh, lass?

Inertia, hilarious, accrues,


You see? Both lines sound exactly the same but mean totally different things. I have been trying to invent a second holorime ever since and failed utterly. Can anyone do better?

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