Skip to main content

Creative Word Games: Pangrams and Holoalphabetic Sentences

Challenging word exercises fill the time spent in waiting rooms and help hone writing skills.

Challenging word exercises fill the time spent in waiting rooms and help hone writing skills.

My daughter's school years claimed countless hours of driving carpool, room-parenting, mentoring Girl Scouts, and attending programs. Many, however, were spent in waiting rooms where my notepad and my pen became my constant companions. It was also here where I began practicing holoalphabetic sentences. Ever since, I've been finding pleasure in word play.

A History of the Pangram

The word pangram comes from the Greek pan meaning "every" and gramma meaning "letter." It is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet.

In the history of typesetting, it was important to be able to see a complete representation of letters and their relationships to one another. As far back as the 16th century, early printers used false texts to demonstrate the look of letters on an entire page. One of the earliest ones read: "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipscing elit, diam nonnumy eiusmod tempor incidunt ut labore et dolo." This Latin text is still used today as filler in graphic layouts and mock-ups where the designers and printers don't want meaningful content to interfere with visual content. Pangrams work similarly, but in a more concise way.

Henry Pattengill and "The Quick Brown Fox"


After the modern typewriter was invented in the late 1800s, it became important to check the typewriter key function for smooth, non-stick operation. Enter the pangram. The most familiar example is "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." In 1885, Henry R. Pattengill, Superintendent for St. Louis Schools and a well known writer and innovative educator, is believed to have been the first to promote its use. In reference to the phrase, he wrote in The Michigan State Moderator, "The following sentence makes a good copy for practice, as it contains every letter of the alphabet."

"The quick brown fox" phrase was touted by Isaac Pitman in a 1903 issue of his Pitman's Phonetic Journal as a perfect typing aid. For decades, typing instructors had students practice this 35 letter pangram on their class typewriters.

Linda Bronson featured the classic phrase in her 1888 stenography manual Illustrative Shorthand, and Robert Baden-Powell refers to it as a model for signaling in his 1908 publication Scouting for Boys.

Although cursive writing has been largely replaced by the computer, this pangram is still used today to practice touch-typing, check computer keyboard function and to aid graphic artists. Designers who are choosing fonts wish to see actual interaction between letters rather than a simple alphabetic layout. This popular pangram has also been used for practicing braille and sign language.

More Creative Holoalphabetic Sentences

Often silly and illogical, pangrams are fun to create.

Often silly and illogical, pangrams are fun to create.

Proven Benefits of Word Play

Dr. Cynthia Green Ph.D. explains the benefits of word games, "Such activities keep us intellectually engaged by getting us to 'stretch' our thinking. Unlike timed activities, which offer us a different kind of challenge, word games (and puzzles, board games, and the like) grab our attention, get us to make new connections, and give us the chance to think outside of our mind's box."

Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist, sees it this way: "Word games benefit the brain because they activate parts of the brain that deal with language and word finding, which forces the brain to exercise, work and be active." Brain exercise has been shown to help prevent memory decline and improve cognitive thinking into old age.

A 2015 study by Peter Sargious out of the University of Calgary showed that experienced scrabble players use a different part of their brains.

His team recruited 24 volunteers, 12 of whom were non-Scrabble players, and 12 who were experts. Each of them was placed in front of a computer that displayed a jumble of letters. Their task was to identify as quickly as possible which letters could be rearranged to form proper English words. While this was happening, their brain states were being monitored by an MRI scanner.

Results showed that Scrabble players were better and faster at the task, which came as no surprise. But the researchers also learned that Scrabble players use a different part of the brain for the exercise.

Study co-writer Sophia Van Hees explained the results which were published in the brain science journal Cortex.

"Results showed that when engaged in the lexical decision task (LDT), Scrabble experts made use of brain regions not generally associated with meaning retrieval in visual word recognition, but rather those associated with working memory and visual perception. The analysis of resting-state data also showed group differences, such that a different network of brain regions was associated with higher levels of Scrabble-related skill in experts than in controls [i.e. non-Scrabble players]."

Van Hees says that this finding points to the brain’s flexibility and suggests that we can use different areas of the brain to do similar tasks. The researchers are hopeful that their research can be used to help people with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. "By using brain training exercises—Scrabble included—alternative parts of a person’s brain could conceivably be leveraged."

These findings could have a significant impact on rehabilitation for those having brain dysfunction.

Tease Your Brain a Little or a Lot

There are many fun ways to enjoy word play. Games can be written or oral and played alone or in social groups. They exercise our minds and help our language skills.

Crossword puzzles, word searches, acrostics, and many timed board and online word games are easy to find and fun to play. Keep a game booklet in a purse or in the car. Find a word in a magazine and see how many other words can be made from its letters.

Kids can play favorite Hangman games on road trips to challenge each other while doing silly drawings. All of these exercise cognitive functions, yet pangrams go a step further in needing some continuity. This helps with imagination and creative writing.

Step Up the Challenge

Step up to a challenge by trying to make the shortest pangrams possible. I took liberties by weaving together a longer, yet sensible holoalphabetic sentence using words beginning with each letter of the alphabet. It involves even more creative writing skill but is easier than a technical pangram.

"Xerxes Marinopolis, an unfortunate victim of the dreaded phobic condition known as sideodromophobia, reluctantly climbed aboard the Zephyr which was bound for New York's Eastside and questioned his insane lack of good judgment."

-Catherine Tally 2012

The hardest part is making a sensible sentence with only 6 vowels to 20 consonants, a troublesome ratio. It can be even more of a challenge to have as few repetitions as possible. I was able to get this one down to 33 words. It's a very fun exercise and certainly more stimulating than perusing expired magazines in a waiting room.

Give it a try. You may just end up a wordsmith or find yourself laughing out loud. Perhaps both.

Questions & Answers

Question: how do I get phrases on love pangrams?

Answer: You must get creative! Try a longer phrase using and likely repeating all the letters of the alphabet first, then keep trying to shorten it until it closely fits the definition of the pangram. Remember, most are nonsensical.

© 2013 Catherine Tally


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on February 08, 2020:

Thank you, Franchesca! You should give it a try:)

franchesca-hp on February 07, 2020:

It's interesting and fun! :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 23, 2014:

Good to hear, Audrey! Thank you for stopping by.

My best,

Cat :)

Audrey Howitt from California on January 23, 2014:

Fun, fun, fun--and it does tease my brain--a lot!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on May 10, 2013:

Sid- It makes me smile to hear that I've inspired you to "lighten up" and have fun with word games. Thank you for the link to your new hub. I'm anxious to check it out!

My best,

Cat :)

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 10, 2013:

Cat - thanks for your inspiration. I've just written my own hub with variations on the pangram game, and linked to this hub there ( I'm starting to stop being too serious.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 05, 2013:

I prefer the way you did it because it offers more options and doesn't make my brain hurt as much-lol. The example in my hub is the same kind. A true pangram is a single short sentence using each letter of the alphabet . Either way, it is a fun word game. :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 05, 2013:

Oh--I may have completely misunderstood--I thought the idea was to make a sentence, each word of which began with a different letter of the alphabet....instead, it seems only that all the letters must be contained within the sentence, regardless of how many or how few words! I'll have to try again. ;-)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 05, 2013:

Hi DzyMsLizzy, I'm so glad! I hope it was a fun challenge. :) My husband wasn't too impressed w/ mine either and would probably have appreciated it more if he had tried it himself! haha. As you practice more, you will be able to reduce the number of letters used more than once. Sid Kemp and KrisL made a true pangram sentence that was really challenging. See his comment here.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 04, 2013:

Ha! I did it! Tried it the other day in doc's waiting area...don't know if I cheated, though, as I used more than 26 words, using some letters more than once....and I can't say it makes a whole lot of sense; it sort of does, and sort of doesn't. My husband read it and said, "Reminds me of a politician--using a whole lot of words to say nothing." LOL

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 04, 2013:

Hi Audrey,

Good to hear from you! I tried and failed miserably at typing because I had settled too comfortably into my hunt and peck style -haha. Im sure I am the obvious dinosaur on the computer keyboard, but I can confidently compete w/ vocab and spelling! I hope you will try this and share it too. Thanks for popping in to read and comment. :)

Audrey Howitt from California on April 04, 2013:

I never took typing--and so did not have that initial experience---but this sounds like fun!! We are a family of wordies

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 31, 2013:


When words are your passion, the possibilities are endless! What a joy to be in such good company. :)

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on March 31, 2013:

Thank you, Catherine. Now MzLizzy has opened another Pandora's Box of challenging wordgame ideas. I like the personal approach, too, - coming up with one's own games and doing them for one's own amusement, brain workout and time-filler in otherwise empty moments!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 31, 2013:

Hello DzMsLizzy,

It's so nice to be in the good company of another wordaholic! Ever since elementary school when my 3rd grade teacher started training us to find words within words, I have enjoyed word play. As my vocabulary expanded, it was scrabble, the board game- then Bookworm on computer. I never thought to entertain myself w/ making words from a polysyllabic seed word while waiting for an appointment but think it is a brilliant idea!! I will do this. Thanks for dropping by to read and comment. I appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. My best to you, as always,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 31, 2013:

Hello Nellieanna,

It's my pleasure to inspire an interest in word games. You will undoubtedly come up with something very clever! I hope you will share it for fun.

My best,

Cat :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on March 30, 2013:

Ah, and fellow word-a-holic that I am, I had to challenge MYself to read your sentence out of sequence, finding all of the alphabet in its correct order. LOL

This sounds like fun. I do think that "Bookworm" is my all-time favorite word game--at least, it has the most extensive dictionary. So many other word games reject perfectly good words with "not in the dictionary" ... "Word Twist" being one such game.

I like Scrabble, but prefer the old-fashioned board game to the electronic version, because then you can use "House Rules" to suit any situation or group of players; for example, making ALL geography place name words, instead of forbidding proper nouns. ;-)

One of my favorite pen-and-paper waiting room games is to riffle through the outdated magazines only long enough to find a nice polysyllabic word, which I then place at the top of the page. The object is to find as many words as possible using only the letters in the "seed word," and only as many times per word as they appear in the seed word.

Your game is a new twist, though, and I must try it out the next time I'm stuck waiting interminably in some boring space. Voted up, interesting and 'funny' only because 'fun' is not on the list. ;-) Also shared.

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on March 30, 2013:

It's 12:30 AM Easter morning - so I'm not going to sample the exercise now but I will! I love word games and challenges. Thank you for bringing this one to my attention. I can certainly see how it would benefit kids in school, too!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 29, 2013:

Thank you. I always have a small notepad handy! I will continue to wish you a full recovery in time to savor the beauty of Spring. It's always nice to see you here,

My best,

Cat :)

b. Malin on March 29, 2013:

Hi Cat,

A very Interesting Hub, and a clever is way to keep the mind alert, especially when one is stuck in the Doctor's office... the brain is a terrible thing to waste!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 24, 2013:

Hello MoniMas,

Thank you for stopping by to read and comment. I always appreciate seeing you here!

I really do hope you give it a try. It's a good mental exercise.

My best to you,


Agnes on March 24, 2013:

Very cool idea. I may have to try it sometime.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 22, 2013:

Hi Rasma,

It's always nice to see that you've dropped by! Thank you for the nice comment.;)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 19, 2013:

Hi Sid, How nice to find that you and KrisL are a not only a couple but a pangram team! You guys came up with a great one with only 33 letters and obviously had a lot of fun doing it. It makes my day!) No need to send me the spreadsheet though. I hope you'll play with pangrams again. Thanks for sharing your very clever and funny one. What an image! I appreciate the comment and the votes.

My best,

Cat :)

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on March 19, 2013:

Hi Cat, my wife KrisL and tried this over dinner. I'm voting the hub up and "funny."

Being a geek I built an Excel spreadsheet to verify pangrams.

We came up with this one: "Quick, wax Zoe the pig, move faster, jump boldly now."

Email me if you want to see the spreadsheet.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on March 19, 2013:

Thanks for sharing this really interesting article. I love word games and I remember typing that fox phrase in typing class.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 18, 2013:

Hi Tom,

Thank you for visiting today. I have always been a fan of word games and wanted to pass this exercise along. I am glad that you like it, and I hope you will give it a try. I hope that Spring is beginning to show promise over there on the East coast. Best wishes,

Cat :)

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on March 18, 2013:

Hi my friend Cat great interesting article and pretty cool idea as well. It would be a fun thing to do to pass the time in a doctor's waiting room .

Vote up and more !!! Sharing !

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 18, 2013:

Hi KrisL,

I hope you have fun with it! Thanks for dropping by. . I appreciate both your enthusiastic comment and the vote. :)

KrisL from S. Florida on March 18, 2013:

This does look like fun! I'll have to try it. Voted "useful" and tweeted.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 18, 2013:

Hello Millionaire Tips,

Thank you for stopping by to visit. I appreciate your comment and am glad you agree that paper and pen are great tools anywhere- esp. in the waiting room!

Shasta Matova from USA on March 18, 2013:

That does sound like an interesting activity - and it is great that it doesn't need any equipment besides pen and paper, so you can do it anytime you are stuck waiting for something or someone. Voted up.