O I C, U C?

I’ve been a fan of James Taylor (he of “Fire and Rain” and “Carolina on My Mind” fame) since I first heard “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” on the radio at a particularly lonely time in my life. That’s a story for another time; we won’t get into it right now. But from that day I bought or stole every album he ever released. On his 1979 release, Flag, he included a song titled “B.S.U.R. (S.U.C.S.I.M.I.M.).” As he sang it in the chorus of the song, it became clearer to any listener: “Be as you are, as you see as I am I am.”

I’ve since learned that there’s a word for what he did there. (Of course there is.) It’s called a grammagram. (And, no, that’s not a photo app exclusively for grandmothers, smart aleck.) A grammagram is a word that can be expressed phonetically as a string of letters; and as James Taylor showed (call me, James, okay?), whole sentences can be formed using (or as) grammagrams.

SKP is a grammagram (for “escapee”). So is XLNC (“excellency”) and NMNE (“anemone”). As well as (no hints for these) ODS and RKDN and what is thought to be the longest single-word grammagram, XPDNC.

The brilliant author William Steig (he of Shrek and Abel’s Island fame) wrote a couple of picture books—C D B and C D C? using only letters, numbers, and symbols to make sentences, such as “C U N 10SE.” Sure, adding numbers and symbols (such as ¢ 10 EL) is cheating; and pictures make the meanings a bit clearer. But both books are clever and fun.

So, do you know any grammagrams? Can you write any sentences (or sonnets, Andrew? hmmm?) using letters only (or, if you like, letters, numbers, and symbols)? 

Why not give it a shot in the comments? Bonus points for anyone writing a complete book in grammagrams.

21 Responses to O I C, U C?

  1. Shulamit May 20, 2021 at 6:08 am #

    O, I 1 2 C NE1 MUL8 William Steig.

  2. Pam Harstad May 20, 2021 at 6:11 am #


  3. Donna May 20, 2021 at 6:22 am #

    I am Gram but have never considered writing in code. Very interesting. You can’t beat James Taylor!

  4. Nancy May 20, 2021 at 6:27 am #

    When my daughter was an early reader, she was reading one of the Steig books out loud. The text was “O U QT. U R A B-U-T.” She alarmed herself when she heard herself say, “Oh, you cutie. You are a butt.” That was nigh unto profanity in her young world. To this day if one of us says that line, we all laugh for a while.

  5. will wallace May 20, 2021 at 7:38 am #


  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 20, 2021 at 7:50 am #

    OK, I’ll bite. The translation’s below.

    I C U
    CM 2 B
    FRN Q
    2 C BUT
    N D RITN
    F L DS
    N R O8N
    REDN ES;
    LS 4 VUN
    N 2 SS
    N LS QN;
    LS TDS!
    U N2C FRT MNS,
    N DS S D FE-10-S.

    I see you
    seem to be
    offering cue
    to see beauty
    in the writing
    of all this
    and are awaiting
    reading ease;
    less for viewing
    and to assess,
    and less queuing:
    less tedious!
    You induce effort immense,
    and this is the evidence.

  7. Kay DiBianca May 20, 2021 at 8:25 am #

    I remember one from my childhood and I assumed it must be a famous one since I saw it recently in the book “Gilead.”

    ABCD goldfish
    LMNO goldfish
    OSDR goldfish

    Has anyone else heard of this one?

  8. Judi May 20, 2021 at 8:55 am #

    My high school Physiology and Anatomy teacher wrote NRG for energy in her hurried black board writing. I adopted it in my notetaking and find myself still using it today.

  9. Deborah Raney May 20, 2021 at 10:32 am #

    My late mom, who loved riddles, sprang this on the family one year:

    M R ducks.
    A R not.
    O S A R. C M wings?
    L I L B! M R ducks.

    Translation (though my mother cringed at the grammar!)

    Them are ducks.
    They are not.
    Oh yes they are. See them wings?
    Well I’ll be. Them ARE ducks.

  10. Sherilyn Faith May 20, 2021 at 11:31 am #

    On an airplane napkin, I once wrote:

    I C U R A Q T

    O, I N V U

  11. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. May 20, 2021 at 12:17 pm #

    I love looking at license plates and figuring them out. Here’s one I’d like:


    It stands for House, M.D. I wrote my dissertation on the series. Not exactly what you meant, Bob, but that’s my creative addition to today’s blog……You stole James Taylor?????

  12. Rebekah Robinson May 20, 2021 at 2:48 pm #

    In Australia (maybe elsewhere?) we have RUOK? which is a mental health initiative. People are encouraged to ask (really ask) friends if they are all right. I think there’s an RUOK Day, but it’s also a recognised Thing at any time. Advocates such as Mates In Construction post about it regularly.

  13. Jennifer Haynie May 20, 2021 at 4:58 pm #

    My recent favorite, almost a grammagram. INTU8. Intubate. Must be an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthatist (or however you spell it).

    • Shulamit May 20, 2021 at 8:33 pm #

      I think it is a fortune teller.

      “I intuit.”

  14. Paula Geister May 20, 2021 at 5:36 pm #

    I’m not good at making these up, but I followed for a few miles down one of our city’s busiest roads a sweet little foreign car with a vanity plate reading FAWAWE. I’m guessing Porky Pig was driving.

    Not a grammagram, but amusing nonetheless.

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