Wednesday, March 08, 2006

you get the car, i'll get the night off

So here's another brief thing about Scrabble's new OWL2.

I've already (sort of) explained how words get in the OWL in the first place.

I get a lot of questions about the rules of Scrabble play. Although it is a general rule of thumb that foreign words and proper names are not allowed, there are many proper names that are allowed because they have other meanings.

Foreign words sometimes are in the American vernacular so long that they make it into our dictionaries of record. Once that happens, they are fair game for Scrabble.

For this same reason, words which were originally trademarked brand names of products, over time, become generally accepted as the word to describe the product itself. For example, velcro. The term VELCRO (all caps) is a registered trademark of Velcro Industries, but the word velcro (all lower-case) has been generally accepted as the generic term for a hook and loop fastener. As these brand names become gerericized over time, it upsets the companies associated with the product bearing the name because it is tantamount to losing a bit of their copyright protection. The product itself is still protected. The nomenclature isn't.

The point of this is that many words associated with trademarked products or companies have found their way into the OWL. There are many new ones, including "velcro", "fedex", "frisbee" and "kleenex". There were already many in the previous OWL, but the only one I can think of off the top of my head is "xerox".

Over time, this becomes an issue because there is no longer any association with the product and the company that trademarked it. For example, few people probably know that "aspirin" was a registered trademark of the Bayer company. Now it is a completely generic term. Or that "escalator" was a registered trademark of the Otis Elevator Company. Although Bayer had other factors working against it, both companies failed to police their own trademarking and saw their name become the generic name.

I could go on for hours about the legal ramifications of this, but this was really just to point out that these words are now acceptable plays in tournament Scrabble.

now playing:

Morrissey Bona Drag


Bill Purdy said...

Hasn't the word "scrabble," referring to a turn-based letter tile crossword game, found its way into the OWL? Hasbro guards the trademark zealously, but at some point (as you pointed out), trademarked words enter our lexicon unbound from the specific products to which they originally referred. I think "scrabbly" is there, too, whatever the hell that means.

d-lee said...

You're not 100% on base there. The word "scrabble" is a verb meaning to scratch,
claw, or 'furiously grope'. It isn't all that common, but the word existed way before the game. It was chosen for the third different name for the game because its inventor liked the word, and it had an aural similarity to "scramble"

Indeed, Hasbro is the current holder of the trade mark, and they do a good job of policing it. It does a good job of always referring to the game by its full name: "SCRABBLE® Brand crossword game", with the name always in all caps.

Bill Purdy said...

Well, as one meaning falls out of use ("to scratch, claw, or 'furiously grope'"), then at what point does the new meaning ("a crossword board game") supplant it in our lexicon? And does it matter, really, at least in this context? A word's meaning is inconsequential in competitive Scrabble® -- all that matters is its inclusion in the OWL, right? I mean, you wouldn't challenge a play of SCRABBLE because the player was unaware of the original definition, would you? I suppose if there was a ® tile in the game, we wouldn't be having this discussion...