Plunky’s Dilemma

Tuesday, 28 February 2006 — 12:42pm | Scrabble

The new Scrabble dictionary, the OWL2, is the official book for all tournaments effective tomorrow. Although I had a chance to flip through the OSPD4 (the book with the red cover you see in stores which also claims to be official) back in June, and my copy’s been collecting dust on the shelf ever since, I only just sat down to go through the complete list of additions.

I’ve only played a handful of games under the new book, so I can’t comment on the new dynamics afforded by QI and ZA and the whole slew of S-hooks you can slap on two-letter words (AGS, AHS, BES, EDS, GOS, HOS), but on the whole, I love the new words. I love how they encourage riskier play.

See, a good Scrabble vocabulary was never only about knowing the words in the dictionary. One also had to learn the negation: you had to remember which commonsensical words you knew were words could not be played. This still holds true, but the problem is now substantially alleviated.

The number of new words that I once played (and had challenged off) is really quite unbelievable. Before I learned all my threes, I was certain that I could play the likes of APP, CIG, DUH, EEK, FAB, MIC, POO and VID – all invalid in OWL/OSPD3, all good in OWL2. And that’s just the threes – never mind the fours (DINO, GOTH, MEDS, TECH) and the bingos (FAGGIEST, TAGLINE, UNLIKED, and yes, BINGOES).

My favourite? PLUNKY. In one of my very first games against Jason Guillery, I played it on a triple in the corner and made him sweat. He stared at it for five, maybe ten minutes trying to decide whether or not to challenge it off, whilst hovering kibitzers checked their dictionaries and looked at us with the smuggest of visages. In the end, he let it stay on the board.

I rebounded to a win and caught him with only a second left on the clock. I’m not sure if he ever got over letting it go. It was an eminently memorable match; this was over four years ago, and I still remember it among hundreds of forgotten games. Since then, I think I’ve only beaten him once.

The new list doesn’t demand a lot of learning – just a lot of “not unlearning”. And this applies not only to the perpetually neologic techies (ANTISPAM, BITMAP, TERAFLOP) and gastronomes (AHI, UDON, CHAI), but ordinary people who read the daily news (BURQA, HIJAB, HEGEMON). Canadians rejoice: LOONIE is now good without the S, and TOONIE is in the mix. (Remarkably, so is TWOONIE, though I know not a soul who spells it that way. Is it identically pronounced?)

I think newcomers are going to have a substantially easier time adjusting – until the next revision a decade down the road, of course, when the lexicon will no doubt look decrepit again and former grungy teenagers will complain about the omission of EMO*. (And may it never be legitimized.) People who are new to competitive Scrabble will always exclaim, “That’s not a word” – but that’s the nature of the game: if you don’t know the word, it’s your fault. But they shouldn’t have to say, “But I know that’s a word” – or worse, trap themselves in self-doubt and fail to muster up the courage to make the best move. And now, we should have less of that.

We might have quite a bit more of the “That’s not a word” sort of indignation, though, because of all the genericized brand names that have now joined the likes of XEROX, among them JELLO, KLEENEX, LEVIS, POPSICLE, PYREX, TEFLON and VELCRO.

As a parting treat, here are some of the new words you will never see in a televised championship final: BOINK, BOODY, BULLDYKE, FUBAR, GAZOO and WAZOO, JOHNSON and WILLIE, NOOKIE, STIFFIE, and WANK (with a whole set of familiar inflections like WANKING and WANKERS).

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