Scrabble :: An Adult Game?


The box says “10 and up”, but today’s Scrabble Word of the Day begs to differ:

(screenshot for posterity)

This seems a particularly odd choice for a Sunday’s anagrammatical edification, given that the official Scrabble dictionary has been Bowdlerized to the point of excluding even the rather mild FART (try RAFT or FRAT). It is, however, quite in keeping with the “adult-games” label included in Scrabble’s home page URL: games/scrabble/home.cfm?page=home.

This would not be the first time the avowedly family-friendly word game has ruffled feathers among the more delicate tile-ticklers. There was the time horrified parents discovered that virtual opponents in the Nintendo DS version of the game will use, and worse yet define, some rather explicit terminology (Sorry kid, but who among us, man or machine, could possibly resist playing F*CKERS on a triple to go out and win?) .

Then there was the time a Holocaust survivor’s opponent noticed that JEW, as a verb, was present in the official word list, prompting Anti-Defamation League involvement and an eventual lexicographical capitulation. This well-meaning expurgation was little comfort to one Jewish gentleman, however, when Scrabble legened “GI” Joel Sherman attempted to use the word in team play against the Scrabble-playing robot with a Yiddish name, Maven. At any rate, this dated Sports Illustrated article plausibly asserts that competitive Scrabble players simply don’t care about defamatory or explicit language. Indeed, if you’ve seen Word Wars, you’ll know that they rely on it, both on the board and off. Warning: the film is unrated and contains profanity, drug use, and the frank discussion of gastro-intestinal difficulty.

I think the gatekeepers of Scrabble wordiness need to be cut some slack. It’s hard enough to be tasked with deciding what is and isn’t a word, let alone what may or may not be offensive. Instead of deploring the arbitrary nature of the Scrabble lexicon, why not embrace it, as must 2003 Scrabble World Champion Panupol Sujjayakorn, a Thai citizen who doesn’t speak fluent English? Perhaps, to end the controversy once and for all, the alphabetic tiles need to be replaced with arbitrary symbols and the word list replaced with a randomly generated set of permutations of these symbols, fixed forever in number and arrangement. Inevitably, however, some of these patterns would bear some superficial resemblance to certain anatomical elements, and we’d be back to square one (the pink one with the star, in the middle of the board, double-word-score).

Finally, for those of you with a strong stomach, have a look at the expurgated word list. Break out one of these gems the next time you’re at the board and strike a blow for lexical liberty for consenting adults, or just enjoy the puerile pleasure of naughty words.

February 23, 2009 7:37 am

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