Thursday, March 02, 2006

what would frank lloyd wright say?

Yesterday was a pretty big day. No, I didn't get a raise, or win the lottery, or land a hot new girlfriend.
It was the day that the new Official Tournament and Club Word List (2nd edition) (affectionately called OWL2) became the official arbiter for word validity in official Scrabble play. The OWL was published in 1998 and had been the adjudicator since then.

The OWL, and OWL2 (available only to members of the National Scrabble Association) differs greatly from Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary (available from any bookseller) in many ways. First, the OSPD contains definitions, and is laid out differently. Inflections and pluralizations are listed under the main word, which sometimes is more confusing than helpful. For example, one of my favorite Scrabble words is SENARII. In the OWL2, it's just listed as is. The OWLs are simply alphabetical word lists. No definitions. In the OSPD, you have to find SENARII listed with SENARIUS as its plural. You would learn that it's a type of greek lyric poetry. This kind of dictionary-style listing probably causes many words to be overturned even when they are valid. Believe it or not, we're not the least bit concerned about definitions in tournament play. It's only helpful to know forms of speech so we might know whether we can add an -s or an -ed or an -ing. Do we really care what a word means? No. I think it's safe to say that for 30% of the words I play, I have no idea what they mean.
Another key difference between the OWLs and the OSPDs is that the OWLs include words that may be deemed "offensive". In club and tournament play, for example, many cuss words and/or ethnic slurs are legal. They're just words. Certain types get offended by the use of certain words, but they're just words. For example, I once had to play the word CUNT in a tournament against a middle-aged lady. She was visibly upset by the word, but it was my best play, and it is legal. Nothing personal. Just a word. Most players understand this and don't get bent out of shape.

So the big question is, how do words get included? What makes Scrabble dictionaries different from normal dictionaries? Every language has its own Scrabble dictionary, and there are two different for the English language: OWL is used in North America, while a different dictionary, SOWPODS is used in the rest of the English-speaking world. In the case of OWL, in effort to be considered the ultimate authority on word adjudication, the dictionary committee (no, I'm not making that up) compiles words from five major dictionaries. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary(currently the 11th edition), Webster's New World Dictionary (currently the fourth edition), Random House College Dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary, and Funk & Wagnalls College Dictionary. Actually, I don't think F&W is used anymore, as it is no longer a dictionary worth its salt. That could easily be a whole other post, but I'll just let it go. Anyway, all words that appear in at least two of the "major" dictionaries are set to be included in OWL. The OSPD simply omits words that could be found to be offensive.

Why the fuss? OWL was eight years old, and the American lexicon has changed a lot since then. There are a few thousand new additions to the OWL2, including five new two-letter words, 41 new threes, 126 new fours, 289 fives, 540 new sixes and 901 new seven-letter words.

Here's the thing, though. One of the new sevens leapt right out at me. PIZZAZZ. Sure, that's a good word. Why not? It's been in Webster's for a long time. Look at the word, though. Four Zs. It's unplayable. The game only has one Z and two blank tiles. The word could never be played. Same with PIZZAZZES and PIZZAZZY, which are new to the list.

There are at least eight new q-without-u words, making that list grow from 21 to at least 29.

I've got a lot of work to do.

now playing:

Elliot Smith XO

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