Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

The scrabble for a better word

Second hand board gamesDealer's Choice, Scrabble, Boggle...Bird Bingo, James Bond 007, Subbuteo...

For someone who loves words, reads a lot and works as a copywriter, I’m surprisingly mediocre at Scrabble. But then, only around 30,000 of the 171,476 words in the 20-volume OED are used frequently, which means that – however great your vocabulary – around 3/4 of potential Scrabble words are likely to mean little or nothing to you. This makes having an interest in the language or even an English degree less important to Scrabble success than your willingness (or ability) to memorise little-known words, particularly those pesky two-letter ones, as well as the strange vowel-intensive ones like Alii, Ilia and Uraei. I don’t think I’m ever going to be that person…


These days* I only ever play Scrabble on my iPhone on the bus or train, and it’s  become more interesting since the new Scrabble app introduced a teacher who passes judgement on your play, although my inner teenager gets the same sort of nervous feeling when I lay down my hastily chosen words that I used to have when handing in my homework. (My school career was unfortunately typified by my history teacher’s observation, “Everyone likes Christine, and everyone believes that Christine has ability. If only her image would let her use it…”) 

The Scrabble teacher’s comments are more generic:

  • Outstanding. That’s really tough to beat.
  • Excellent. You could have scored a few more points though.
  • Good. Here’s how you could have scored a few more points.
  • Hm. Let me show you what you missed…

The last tends to appear when you miss a potentially massive-scoring bingo. (For those who don’t know – which, until 5 mins ago included me – bingo is when you use all seven of your letters at once.) Personally, I can’t read it without imagining my history teacher peering over the top of his glasses at me, a disappointed look on his face…

I really don’t like it when I don’t recognise a word and it also doesn’t appear within the lexicon of the Collins Dictionary app on my iPhone (I never play when I’m at home, so I can’t check it out my chunky Oxford dictionary). Wouldn’t it be great if you could click on any word you were uncertain about and ask for a definition? Anyone know someone at Scrabble we could petition about this?

I do like it when the teacher points out interesting unfamiliar words, such as this one, from earlier:

Parousia |pəˈroōzēə; ˌpäroōˈsēə|


Christian Theology

Another term for the second coming of Christ. ORIGIN Greek, presence / being present / arrival.

*My partner is an ex-micro biologist and geneticist, and has the sort of brain that delights in puzzles. He is also extremely competitive, and as a result I can’t stand the stress of playing Scrabble (or any other board game) with him. And there are a lot of board games to choose from, as he often comes home with a board game he’s picked up for a song from a charity shop. Recent acquisitions include retro classics such as Dealer’s Choice, Formula 1 and James Bond 007, each accompanied by a ghostly whiff of Brut. It’s all very ’70s, and I’m waiting for the morning when he appears at breakfast sporting bushy facial hair and a chunky-knit cardigan, à la Paul Michael Glaser.

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  1. Pingback: My Scrabble Affinity | Lessons Learn

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