Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Torrid World of Scrabble Controversy

I noticed an article about Scrabble yesterday when I was logging into my yahoo mail account. It talks about how the addition of three new words to the official Scrabble dictionary is changing the game balance. The three new words are "za" which is slang for pizza, "qi" a body's vital life force and "zzz" a snoring sound.

The argument goes that the point value for letters should be re-evaluated because there was a careful balance of letter point values based on the frequency they turned up in words. Though it would appear that careful balance was achieved somewhat less scientifically that I would have thought. Alfred Butts, the original creator of the game, went through a bunch of news papers counting letters and word usage without a calculator much less a computer. He did this in 1938 as well and I am pretty sure the landscape of words has changed quite a lot since then. Kind of odd that could be used by people on both sides of the argument.

Scrabble TilesI should also point out that in order to spell "zzz" in the game, you would need to be set up with the only "z" tile and both blanks. You may also be surprised to know there is only one "q" title, though "qi" does make it a lot easier to get rid of that "q" instead of having it sit there taking up space and given it's point value they may have a point. The "Q" goes from penalty tile to bonus title. Think about it, once the "Q" tile is on the board and you have an "I" its party time with at least 11 points not counting any word or letter bonuses squares.

It sounds like the change is being done to make the game friendlier to the casual player (wow, where have we heard that before?) And if you really want to be a good Scrabble player you’d take a gander at the list of official two and three letter words before sitting down to a game. It's just the same as poking around some websites for information on a raid before logging into your favorite MMO.

Now Scrabble is not new to controversy. Just looking through some links I found all sorts of stuff:

Webster's Dictionary Explcit ContentA woman wrote the Daily Mail newspaper complaining that the Nintendo DS Scrabble game's dictionary contains some mildly profane words. Chief amongst the offenders are the words "tits" (a garden bird or informal word for female breasts, according to the game’s definition system), "fuckers" (a slang word for chavs) and "toke" (a draw on a cannabis cigarette).

I'm in the process of writing a very stern letter complaining about the use of highly offensive words in the latest edition of Webster's Dictionary. They need to put a Parental Advisory label on that book before if falls into the hands of some impressionable child! Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children!

Scrabble Dildo Word of the DayBut that was back in December. That is old news. How about the 0fficial Scrabble website's official word of the day for February 22nd? "Dildo" (An object used as a penis substitute) was up for about half the day before it was changed. BTW "Dildo" only nets you 7 points.

I simply can't bring myself to say one of the jokes I have to end that. It's just not THAT kinda of blog. But oh man I have some good ones!

Okay but let us talk serious controversy now. Erik Arneson from has a post that claims some people are calling for text messaging slang to be included as official words. These would be things like "ttfn" (ta ta for now), "cuthen" (see you then) and "fwiw" (for what it's worth) as well as letter and number combinations such as "gr8" (great) and "2mrw" (tomorrow)." Though his post is from 2003 and the link to the Telegraph newspaper article doesn't work anymore. I personally think that the quote from a spokesman for Mattel saying, "We are in favour of including some text words in future official Scrabble dictionaries" should be read the same way as when your mother used to say "Maybe later." In other words, "no."

I started to write this as something on game balance as applied to more traditional games and maybe even sports, but my research found the stuff above and that's where I wound up. So there ya go. I should also point out that a lot of the different tournaments have their own official word lists, but I didn't feel like looking into that let alone boring you with it.


Cap'n John's Blog said...

Fuckers is slangs for Chavs? But isn't Chav itself a slang term for the average, unemployed British gangsta-wannabe? I thought slang terms were verboten in Scrabble anyway. Guess it depends on your In-House Rules.

Qi has been in use in many online Scrabble games for some time. I've had it used against me quite a few times, but I've used it myself, too, so it's a fair cop.

But the apparent inclusion of Tits is hardly ground breaking. I've used it in its avian context several times.

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

Those weren't the new words. Those were the words the lady was complaining about because the computer was using them in her son's Nintendo DS Scrabble game.

Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children!!!