Scrabble Scrambles to Keep Pace With an Internet of Words


Scrabble scrambles to keep pace by adapting with the internet age and the words it spawns. Starting August 11, 5,000 new words will be added the Scrabble dictionary. Many of the words are combination words or words from another language that has entered into the English lexicon. For example, these words offer a look at combination words; the word “frenemy” – a person who pretends to be a friend but is and enemy, or “chillax” – a blending of the phrase – chill-out and relax.

The internet has influenced the speed of acceptance of words into common speech and dictionaries. Scrabble uses a collegiate dictionary as a guide for which words are legal in the game. Normally, words usually are not accepted until they have been around for about ten years. Technology and the speed at which we communicate around the world and the number of words that have been adapted or invented because of technology has increased at a much quicker pace.

The last official changing and adding of words to the game by Merriam-Webster, the official publisher of the Scrabble dictionary, was in 2005. That latest “new edition” then added a few high-powered words like ”qi” and “za”, and one Scrabble authority exclaimed it “completely changed the game.” BTW (By the way), “Qi” pronounced “chee” is Chinese for personal energy and “za” is a hacked word for pizza.

Words coming into their own in the latest edition are words that have been labelled “naturalized citizens” and include favorites like; ”Qigong”– a Chinese exercise routine – “qajaq” the Inuit spelling for “kayak” – and “schmutz” – which is Yiddish for – a glob of something. Traditional players of the game have not raised any ire about slang words, though staying power of slang is an important element. Adding words and adapting to the use of language tends to enrich Scrabble and enhance it as a game with staying power.

One wonders about the origins of Scrabble. A Poughkeepsie, New York, native who found himself scrambling to make ends meet while unemployed as an architect, thought a new board game might be a way to earn money. To keep up the pace, Alfred Mosher Butts looked at the then current state of board games and realized there are three categories; word games, number games, like dice and bingo, and move games, like checkers and chess. With an internet connection of words and numerical points scored according to the difficulty of the word, Butts could weave a game similar to a crossword puzzle into a competitive format with four players.

Butts, an avid crossword puzzle player and a man who liked anagrams – a word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase; from cinema to iceman, for example, wanted to create a game of skill and chance. His game was first named LEXICO, later revised into CRISS CROSS WORDS. Butts examined The New York Times front page and made calculations of letter frequency and analyzed the english language using crypto graphic techniques. The result has been the constant tile distribution of words and letters have remained valid for three generations of players and games played, into the billions.

Pedaling his game to game manufacturers was an exercise in futility until his meeting with James Brunot happened to be an entrepreneur who loved to play board games. He was immediately fascinated with the game. After a combined period of refining, redesigning and re-writing of a few of the rules, and significantly renaming, the game Scrabble – which means “to grope frantically,” the game was trademarked SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game in 1948.

The game was not an immediate money-maker. It did gain slow popularity. An MACY’S president bought the game while on vacation. He purchased some for his store, and within the space of a year, Scrabble games were being rationed to stores throughout the U.S.. By 1952, games were being sold so quickly, the games were licensed to Selchow & Richter Company, a prominent game manufacturer, to distribute and market the game in Canada and the U.S. To repeat a well-known and trite phrase – “The rest is history.”

Scrabble is such a popular game it can be found in one out of three homes in America, from a CD-ROM version to the Deluxe edition. There is a championship tournament in a rotating major U.S. city every year and the World Championship conducted on alternate years between Mattel and Hasbro. Along those lines, there is a National Scrabble Association with more than 180 sanctioned tournaments and in the United States and Canada there are over 200 clubs strewn across these countries alone. Scrabble is no longer scrambling to keep pace with the internet or any other form of word game.

By Andy Towle

Portland Press Herald
Wonder How To – Scrabble
Scrabble Association
New York Daily News

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