language and words in the news language change and slang

Lost for words

I’ve recently discovered that many of my colleagues are closet Scrabble™ players; how have I made this fascinating discovery? By the fact they are all, without exception, incensed by news that games company Mattel is to relax the rules and allow the use of proper nouns and other previously verboten words.

One (slightly cynical?) colleague found the timing of the decision somewhat suspicious, given that Kyrgystan has been much in the news of late, pointing out that this must be worth a fair few points. Another raised the question of who decides the correct spelling of proper nouns. For place names, are the English spellings as valid as the ‘local’ ones (consider Lyons and Lyon) and will former place names be acceptable (for example Peking or Ceylon)? And what about names deriving from non-roman alphabets, or accents on letters – are we going to need several new sets of tiles here?

Then of course there’s the whole question of ‘when is a noun a proper noun’? Granted, Beyoncé is pretty recognizable, but one of my chinchillas is called Chiwi, an Andean word meaning ‘black hair’ – does the fact that I’ve turned this non-English word into a proper noun mean it qualifies under the new rules? Or does she have to reach a predefined level of notoriety before that becomes the case? And who judges whether she’s made the grade or not? What are the criteria for ‘proper noun success or failure’? I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.

The general consensus seems to be that it’s a ridiculous idea, though the fact that it actually only applies to a new game, Scrabble Trickster™, probably mitigates things a bit, since the ‘real’ Scrabble™ rules won’t be affected. This new version of an old favourite is being released in Europe in an effort to entice younger players into the game. Though to my mind, if you didn’t enjoy the challenge of anagrams in the first place, being able to use proper nouns probably isn’t going to make a lot of difference!

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Sharon Creese


  • Ah the slightly cynical colleague would be me, Sharon. And (as Stephen reminded me) there’s also a valuable ‘z’ in Kyrgyzstan. I think my theory gains even more credibility given the prominence in the news of Eyjafjallajökull (the Icelandic volcano that’s causing such havoc) – that must be worth a few points.

  • Hmm, yes Michael. Maybe not so cynical after all!

    Interesting point about that ‘z’ – seems it can be spelt either way (lots of Google results for each), though the ‘with z’ seems to be the right one. So even more points then. . .

  • Scrabble is one of the few things in which I would describe my position as conservative. The international official dictionary (SOWPODS) includes already boat loads of bizzare words. SJOE, KY, JO, etc. But the words ‘Kyrgyzstan’ and ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ won’t really enter the picture. Remember that each player has 7 tiles. You would have to find a scenario where someone played ‘tan’ and then put the previous seven letters before. Don’t forget there’s only 1 ‘z’ and 1 ‘k’….

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