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To take the alphabet and re-arrange its 26 letters into words and preferably a sentence is one of the holy grails of English and is properly called a pangram3. However, there are some serious difficulties as will be explained below. The shortest grammatically correct English sentence that I have found is4:

Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz.
Another commonly quoted phrase, though longer is:

A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.1
The jackdaw phrase has 29 characters which has 3 extra. Can we do any better? And why is it so difficult? Is it impossible? Well, the obvious first problem is the lack of vowels. A, E, I, O and U is not a lot to work with. Especially when you realize that your U will be tied to the Q and essentially wasted. One could avoid this by using one of the Scrabble words with a Q but no U but the choices look quite limited. Some may give up at this point but I think I have an answer: Y.

The structure we are looking for is as follows, with @'s representing vowels and #'s representing consonants:

  1. ###@##
  2. ##@##
  3. ##@##
  4. ##@##
  5. ##@##
Total: 26 letters.

Using Y as a central vowel5 as found in 'scyth' or 'sphynx' and using 2 and 3 letter consonant combinations makes it appear quite possible. So where does that leave us? Well, I have come up with 28 letters:

Is it possible to create a search algorithm to probe a dictionary to come up with 27 or 26 letters? One could code a brute force algorithm but it would be like one of those infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters propositions. Filtering the dictionary first to eliminate any words that use the same letter twice would make the likely list a lot shorter but it would still be a lot of work to see if a combination exists.


1This reminds me of a joke...What is an agnostic dyslexic insomniac? Someone who lies in bed at night wondering if there is a dog.

2I am clinging desperately for the sake of my pride to the idea that sphynx can also be spelled with a y.

3At the time I originally posted this, I was not aware of the term pangram. Please refer to it as there are some excellent w/u's about the same subject.

4Oh, how arrogant of me! Many users sent me exact pangrams and others are provided under pangram. My favourite that I have received is: Meg Schwarzkopf quit Jynx Blvd (sent by Lord_Brawl).

5quoi? sent these additional useful words: Syzygy, crypt, Flynn, glyph, psych.

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