Associated Press in New York
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 August 2014 17.46 AEST
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To Scrabble fanatics, big gifts sometimes come in small packages.
The word “te” as a variant of “ti”, the seventh tone on the musical scale, is a hardworking little gem among 5,000 words added to the latest edition of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary.
Due out on 11 August, the dictionary’s last freshening up was a decade ago. Entries in the forthcoming book that include texter, vlog, bromance, hashtag, dubstep and selfie were mere twinkles on the racks of recreational players.
But it’s the addition of te and three other two-letter words – da, gi and po – that has Robin Pollock Daniel excited. The Canadian clinical psychologist is a champion of the North American Scrabble Players Association, which has a committee that helps Merriam-Webster track down new, playable words of two to eight letters.
“Being able to hook an ‘e’ underneath ‘t’ means that I can play far more words,” said Daniel, who practises Scrabble for two to four hours every day. “Sometimes you play parallel to a word and you’re making two-letter words along the way. I call those the amino acids of Scrabble. The more two-letter words we have, the more possibilities a word will fit.”
One woman’s te is another man’s “qajaq”, one of Peter Sokolowski’s favourites among the new words. The lexicographer and editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster said in a recent interview with Daniel, that qajaq reflects the Inuit roots of kayak and would require a blank tile because Scrabble sets only have one Q. But it’s a rare word starting with “q” that doesn’t require a “u”.
A bonus, to a word aficionado like Sokolowski: qajaq is a palindrome, though that’s inconsequential in Scrabble.
The new words add about 40 pages to the Scrabble-sanctioned dictionary, which already lists more than 100,000 playable words. Definitions are kept to a minimum but parts of speech and whether a plural is available are noted.
To be included in the fifth edition of the 36-year-old book a word must be found in a standard dictionary, can’t require capitalisation, can’t have hyphens or apostrophes and can’t be an abbreviation, in addition to being two to eight letters, reflecting the seven tiles players draw plus an eighth already on the board they can attach a long word to for bonus points.
Among the highest potential scorers among the new additions is “quinzhee”, a shelter made by hollowing out a pile of snow. If played on the board’s top row, ending at the top right through an existing “u”, a player can score 401 points, including the 50-point “bingo” bonus for using all seven tiles.
Merriam-Webster didn’t identify all 5,000 new words but released a list of about 30 that include: beatbox, buzzkill, chillax, coqui, frenemy, funplex, jockdom, joypad, mixtape, mojito, ponzu, qigong, schmutz, sudoku and yuzu. Geocache was also added, voted into the dictionary by the public during a Facebook contest in May.
“It makes the game more accessible to younger people, which we’re always looking for,” Daniel said. “All the technology words make it more attractive to them.”
Sokolowski said he anticipated a transitional period for some players who may need time to get used to having so many new words to play with.
“It is going to be a big step for a lot of people to switch to this,” he said, “but at the same time, if you’re sitting at a Scrabble game after dinner and somebody plays the word selfie and somebody challenges that as not a real word, well guess what? It is.”