Thursday, November 08, 2012

Scrabbling for the right word

Dramatic news reaches us from the world of board games, where the UK national Scrabble championship has just been won by Paul Gallen, an unassuming-looking 26-year-old solicitor from Belfast.

"LORD", you might say in your excitement at these glad tidings. Or "HURRA". Or "VEEP". Or even "DOWP". But then again you might not, because you might not have a clue what half of them meant.

These were just a few of the words that were placed on the winning board in the final.

And to be perfectly frank, most of them don't make a lot of sense.

All right, AX might just be a transatlantic variant of AXE. And among the weirder chunks of arcane vocabulary there are a few gems that you might occasionally drop into your everyday discourse. Words like ENTER, and TIE, and WED.

But QAID? PULLI? ICTIC? " VAUNTIER? What kind of person knows these words? Indeed, what kind of person uses them?

Or COOF. You couldn't, as they say, make it up. Especially not in Scrabble, because in Scrabble, making up words is cheating.

And if you need proof that neither Mr Gallen or his opponent in the final, Waly Fashina, were cheating, then you need look no further than the spell-checker on the steam-powered computer system that pumps out the pages of The Bath Chronicle every week.

It has the disconcerting habit of putting a red squiggle under any words that don't reach its high standards of lexicographical exactitude.

And up to this point, the only words it balked at when we ran this blog through it were the names of the finalists themselves. Which does have a certain irony.

It's always rather tempting to try and beat the system, though. So we chucked another couple of winning words into the slavering maw of the spell-checker and see what it thinks.

GOEY. KEB. ZARI. Nothing. Not a tremble, not a hint of a red squiggle. Believe it or not, they're real words.

So how do Messrs Gallen and Fashina, and others of their ilk, pick up all this fancy vocabulary that has passed the rest of us by?

Well, in the era before children, and video games, and iPads, we Dixons weren't averse to whiling away the long winter evenings with a game or two of Scrabble. And we've hung on to a relic of those halcyon days in the library at Dixon Towers: Chambers Words.

This handy tome – "a shortcut to inspiration", it says on the cover – lists thousands of words, without meanings from shortest (AA), through middle-sized (STELLION) to longest. Which is... deep breath...


Maybe you knew them. And amazingly, the spell-checker hasn't thrown a wobbly, although by this stage there was a disturbing creaking noise coming from under the computer room door.

So if you want to be a champion Scrabbler, it appears, you have to sit down and learn Chambers Words by rote. Well UG, and NOG, and POUPE to that. Life's too short, especially when you could be SQUEGGING. Actually that isn't a real word. But SQUEG is, and SQUEGGER too.

What they mean is anyone's guess, and to a Scrabble player, it doesn't really matter. It's that triple-word score that counts.

No comments:

Post a Comment