So-Called “Words” with So-Called “Friends”

Hypothetical question: What’s more obsolete, Scrabble Tiles or cufflinks? (Image from declubz.com)

I come from a fairly literate family.  That, in and of itself is hardly noteworthy – except maybe it explains my use of words like “noteworthy” and phrases like “in and of itself”.

As a child, we had Scrabble, along with a bunch of other board games.  While my parents would tolerate Parcheesi and Monopoly with us kids, they and some their adult friends were dangerously good at Scrabble, especially my Dad.  With his roots in the theater and education, he has never been one to be messed with in the realm of words.  I remember him routinely doing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink, in one sitting.  It was typically a long sitting, often in the privacy of the basement bathroom – but that’s for his blog to discuss (In a recent Facebook post, the 83 year old lamented having trouble with both this week’s New York Time Sunday Magazine crossword and the Harper’s puzzle.  If this trend keeps up, I’ll be as smart as him by the time he’s 119).

One of the exciting aspects of Scrabble was the challenge.  If a person doubted another player’s word, it could be challenged.  I’m sure there were penalties for the accuser or the defender depending upon whether the word was real or proven false.  I had no poker face whatsoever, so in countless games of Scrabble with the family, I never once considered trying to put one over on them, even if my Dad wasn’t playing.  Bluffing with non-words wasn’t part of how we played the game anyway.

That’s 8 points. Do I get bonus points for using an actual word? (Image from etsy.com)

Alas, I’ve once again sunk into sentimentality.  Today, most Scrabble games are laying lost and forgotten in the backs of closets, covered with dust and missing tiles.  These days we have “Words With Friends”, a thinly-veiled, digital bastardization of Scrabble.  I played it briefly on my phone with a few friends and was disappointed with the lack of any sort of challenge, not to mention the seriously flawed dictionary it possesses.  The things which it defines as words are laughable.  I was amazed when one person played the word “oa” against me.

That’s not a word!” I howled “There are no consonants in it!  It’s an abbreviation for osteo-arthritis, fer cryin’ out loud!”

It appears that many of the people who play the game, when frustrated with a lack of easily spelled word opportunities, just resort to randomly throwing letters in a row or column, hitting “submit” and hoping for the best.  When rejected, they simply throw another batch of letters in a line and try again.

Like many things in popular culture, Words With Friends has increased its annoyance quotient by becoming a staple of Facebook.  Now, in addition to status updates like:

“Jerry Sandusky just made a new friend, named Bubba”

- or -

“Marie Antionette just had a piece of cake”

We can also have ones which say:

“Sally Jones just played ‘Xyllp’ in Words With Friends”

- or -

“Bob Smith just played ‘cat’ in Words With Friends”

Now I’m torn.  Who should be more embarrassed;  Sally for playing a word which doesn’t exist in any language, or Bob for settling for ‘cat’ when we can all assume that there must have been a better word available?  What kind of culture are we existing in when people are so cavalier about airing the dirty laundry of their limited vocabularies and/or their lack of gamesmanship?  Don’t get me wrong, in a pinch, I would spell cat for the measly 5 or 6 points it gets me, but I would never do so for everyone to see!  For the record, I would never spell xyllp, even if I had a triple letter block for the ‘X’, because it’s not a damn word!

Meanwhile, their competitors, oblivious to what’s going on, are busy looking for motivational posters to slap up on their Facebook walls, driving kids to soccer practice or maybe changing the litter box as they wait for notification that it’s their turn.  Games can stretch on for months as people pay attention to them when the spirit moves them.

As if the lack of a large vocabulary and any skill in spelling among W.W.F. players isn’t bothersome enough, the lack of attention to the game is the final straw.  I can recall board- and card-games played in my life, where one of the participants was preoccupied with something else.  Someone at the table would eventually slam their fist down and ask “Are we playing (insert name of game here) or not??!”  Game play allows, and is even enhanced by, a degree of social interaction and off-game topics of discussion, but when it’s your turn, it’s your damn turn.  Taking 3 days to get around to your turn is not “playing”.  It’s just a sad version of life-support for a pet you don’t really care about.

This all begs the question as to whether taking 72 hours to take your turn in a game is a more profound waste of time than writing a blog about it.

50 responses

  1. I particularly like this post because I am very protective of the English language. It won’t be long before “u” is considered a real word. Strong message. Thanks. Funny, Scrabble is on my Amazon wish list. :)

  2. I’ve never played “Words with Friends,” and now, thanks to your rant…er, I mean…blog post, I don’t have to. But I do enjoy a game of Scrabble from time to time. I also like Scategories and Boggle, because those are the only two games I can consistently beat my husband at. Always. Competition should never go out of a marriage, should it?…

  3. I don’t play Words With Friends, however when I see the words played by some of my thought to be intelligent friends, I am suddenly a word nazi. I’ve seen “sit” from my friend who is an RN….really? Suddenly I’m all “come on you can do better than that” I am officially insane and apparently in good company.

  4. Lol, so good- “This all begs the question as to whether taking 72 hours to take your turn in a game is a more profound waste of time than writing a blog about it.” Isn’t that blogging in general though? It’s a vicious cycle.

  5. Very thought provoking actually. People want to look intelligent and have a big vocabulary, but they don’t want to make the effort that it takes to be real about it. It requires reading and thinking and listening, three lost arts.

    My theory on why Dan Brown books were so successful is that they made people feel smart even if they weren’t. He littered the books with historical and literary references that you didn’t really need to understand in order to get what was happening in the book and people were able to convince themselves that, for example, knew what iambic pentameter was because the hero mentioned a cipher was written in it.

    End of rant.

    • I read one Dan Brown book, which was not memorable beyond my thought, which was “Ugh! I’ll never read another one of his books” Luckily, it was the book about the fraudulent scientists from NASA faking evidence in a glacier or something. That way, I was able to avoid ever having to speak to anyone about the da Vinci code. Having taken more than a few art history classes, I don’t need help talking about art. End of counter rant.

  6. I’ve ranted about this very thing in a past post. I kept losing big time to a friend who would whip up words like QI and OVA. It ticked me off so much I would counter with HAT and SING just for spite. Then I decided to make up my own words (they’re all in my blog post) I was addicted to WWF, playing several games at once. Now I’m down to one friend I play with and I use QI all the time. But I still lose.

    • As I wrote to “Life With The Top Down”, there are cheat programs people can use to supply them with the highest scoring words. I don’t see the point of it. I played briefly on the phone, and when I questioned the people I was palying against, they had no idea what the words were, they were just doing the random lining up of letters and hitting “submit”

  7. My wife was playing Scrabble on the iPad with a couple people and getting creamed. She couldn’t believe how well they were doing… and then she discovered that there’s a button you can hit and the computer tells you the best word/move you can make, and the others were just using that every time. How is that even a game? That’s a linguistic slot-machine.
    Much better to break out the tiles and Scrabble board, even though my wife stomps me almost every time.

    • No one in this family will play with me. They much prefer other games, or better yet, leaving the house and getting away from me.

      I don’t get the cheat software, which I didn’t even know about until after I wrote the piece. I thought it was horrible enough that people were putting random tiles together and hoping for a word which they themselves didn’t even know existed.

      The thought of using the cheat software just totally defeats the whole notion of a game. I can’t wrsp my head around why that’s even appealing to someone.

    • By the way, I read and enjoyed your post on Aurora today. I commented on it, and I apologize if my comment comes across as overly pessimistic. I stand behind my rather bleak words, but didn’t want to express that sentiment on your post, as your post is not about whether I’m right or wrong. Thanks for writing that post, I didn’t have it in me.

  8. “…Slip Mahoney hat…” I can’t tell you how amazed I am that you referenced Slip. Whenever I mention Slip Mahoney to friends, they don’t know who I’m referring to…what the hell? I don’t think that even Slip would play some of those bogus words in WWF. What is a qi anyway? And for that matter, what is qis? Words I never heard of are acceptable. I stopped playing for the most part except for games with a couple of friends who are still playing WWF with passion. Their feelings would be hurt if I neglected our games. As it is I make them wait a week at least between plays. I used to play Scrabble With Random Strangers but stopped because it was not much fun and a huge time waster as well.
    Nice bloggery as usual, Mr. 1Point!

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