March 17, 2014

Scrabble dictionary in search of new words



For the first time in nine years, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online Official Scrabble Players Dictionary is getting an update. Jennifer Schuessler writes for the New York Times that the first ever official Scrabble Word Showdown kicked off last week, opening the doors for lexicology enthusiasts to nominate words to be officially inducted into the new edition of the dictionary.

Nominations are currently open for anybody to post their suggestions on the Facebook page for the contest, through March 28. Schuessler writes that Hasbro, the game’s manufacturer, suggested newly coined words like “selfie” (because if the OED is going to be awful, why not join in?). From all the suggestions posted, the contest officials will choose sixteen words to place in a March Madness-style bracket, with people voting for which entries move on from one round to the next, and the winning word announced on April 10.

Setting aside the silliness of only updating what seems to be an online dictionary once per decade, I remain skeptical about the wisdom of leaving any significant decision up for a public vote, particularly when the voting public consists chiefly of Internet commenters. The Wire has been doing something similar for the month of March, offering bracket competitions in various categories, up for public vote.  A fun idea in principle, it’s led to some baffling results, like Chicago (a fine city and worthy second-place) beating New York in the semi-finals for the Best City in America; not to mention the battle for Best Zodiac Sign, in which Pisces received more votes than Aries (absurd).

I kid, of course, my dear Chicagoans and Pisceans, because this sort of thing is arbitrary and not meant to be taken to heart. But that’s just the point, that it’s not an ideal way to undertake a serious decision; and I, for one, feel that Scrabble should be taken entirely seriously. What if the public votes in a proper noun? Or, heaven help us, an abbreviation? What THEN, Hasbro?

Judging from the suggestions on the Scrabble Word Showdown Facebook page, there’s a wide range of words being put forward. There’s a considerable faction of old-school Simpsons fans who support the addition of “kwijybo,” as well as strong support for “ew” among Scrabble enthusiasts who appreciate that knowledge of all the permissible two-letter words is how you really rack up the points. There are, of course, nods to changes in language thanks to technology, including a call to allow “texted” and “texting.” And there are, lamentably, some people making horrible suggestions like “Jedi” (capitalized (also fictional)), “CV” (abbreviation), and “cray-cray” (simply idiotic). Hopefully the gatekeepers at Hasbro will at least keep the sixteen words for the bracket to ones that comply with actual Scrabble rules.

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.