Oh My Word! Scrabble Goes Crazy

by Kevin Burton

   If you read this column often you know I’m a Scrabble player. Guess I’ve become an old Scrabble player.

   I used to laugh at my mom because she objected to some of the new words in the Scrabble Players’ Dictionary. I’m not laughing anymore.

   I have the sixth edition of the dictionary.  I just found out from my friends at Merriam-Webster that there is a seventh edition, and I got a look at some of the new words they have included.

   Sometimes when I play Scrabble with my wife Jeannette and I play “xi” for example, she will ask me what the word means. 

   In Scrabble, who cares what it means! Is it allowable or is it not? Nothing else matters.   That has always been my attitude. So it’s odd that some of the new words make me queasy. 

   Let’s break down some of the new ones here, shall we?

   Let’s start with one I am cool with, “Vax,” meaning to give a vaccine to, to vaccinate.  I guess “vaxx” is an acceptable variant. OK. But they also say “dox” and “doxx” meaning “to publish private information about a person,” is acceptable.  Never heard of such.

   The seventh edition says “Boricua” is a word, according to Merriam-Webster.  That is a word for a native of Puerto Rico.  This I truly don’t understand.  If that is really what the word means, shouldn’t Boricua be capitalized at all times, thus not legit for Scrabble? Have they changed that too while I wasn’t watching?

   “Bae” is one of the new words. It means “person who one loves.”  I have never encountered this word in print, in conversation or otherwise.  But it sounds like something the millennials would invent.

   How about “zonkey” for a hybrid between a zebra and a donkey?  This sounds more like a punchline from Laugh-In than a real word. 

   “A new chance to play the Z tile is newsworthy for Scrabble players, and in this case we’ve added a few words for this hybrid animal, including ZEDONK and ZEEDONK—all terms that are, so to speak, worth their stripes,” Merriam-Webster wrote. 

   “Dumpster” now makes the grade. No, that’s not a hybrid of a duck and a hamster, it is the actual big trash container. 

   “It’s possible that you’ve played DUMPSTER in the past and have been successfully challenged, a frustrating experience,” Merriam-Webster writes. “Until now, this term was categorized as a trademark in the dictionary—the capital D made it unavailable for play. But now, like other words that started out as trademarks (ESCALATOR is one; both XEROX and GOOGLE are playable as verbs), it is a playable noun.

   Now this one is just wrong: “verbing” meaning to use as a verb.  Really?

   “Changes in playability of words for Scrabble are often direct results of how the dictionary treats a given word. Case in point: the venerable word VERB is now categorized itself as a verb, meaning that VERBED and VERBING are now playable. This phenomenon extends to other words newly verbed (see what we did there?) in this edition, including ADULT, TORRENT, SPITBALL, and RETWEET.

   This one is kind of a cool concept, “ambigram,” a word that forms another word when viewed another way

   “Words about words are perfect for Scrabble players, and this newly playable term refers to words that have a visual symmetry (think of mom and wow), often when presented upside-down or at 180 degrees,” Merriam-Webster writes. “In addition to this way of calling how a word is seen, we have also added a new word about how they are heard, EGGCORN, “a word that sounds like and is mistaken for another word,” often in song lyrics.

A “vaquita” is a small porpoise. That seems straightforward enough.  Queso is another new Q word. Surprised that one wasn’t in already. 

   Here is a word, “deepfake” that I will probably never use, but which had to be created for the postnational United States, where it seems everything is a deepfake.

   A deepfake is “an image or audio that has been altered to misrepresent someone’s words or actions,” according to the dictionary.  That word should apply to things other than pictures and audio.  Deepfake could be the title of the next big hit love-gone-wrong song.  What do you think?

   I have saved the worst for last.  The seventh edition includes “embiggen” meaning “to enlarge” as a word.  How clunky is that?    

   May I suggest that in the eighth edition they include “enwacken” meaning to make something wacky?  That’s what Scrabble is doing to its dictionary.  This sort of folly is making it hard to defend the book against the barbs of my mother. 

   I was already questioning words such as “za” (a pizza) in the sixth edition.  Maybe I should just go back to the third or fourth edition and stay there, the way I stick with my 60s-70s-80s music and make few exceptions for newer sounds.

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