Proper nouns, improper Scrabble
Despite, if I may be allowed a moment of egocentric puffery, possessing an excellent vocabulary, there are certain word games that exceed my abilities.
I am truly hopeless at cryptic crosswords, unlike my father who can divine meaning from the most obscure and circuitous clues. Anagrams leave me as jumbled up as the original clue, unlike my wife who seems able to decipher the original word instantly (perhaps this is a skill that develops in teachers to help them understand their students’ handwriting).
And Scrabble sees me seething with frustration at a rack full of consonants, and only able to make the word “it”. And not even on a triple word score.
But the venerable game of Scrabble has just announced its first major rule change in 62 years.
Originally touted as allowing “celebrities, places and products” into the hallowed list of acceptable Scrabble words, reaction from Scrabble purists was, shall we say, slightly negative (“a sign of the apocalypse” is how one enthusiast described it).
And you can understand why. Scrabble relies on one player having a richer vocabulary than the other, to make best use of the tiles they have drawn. In the event of a dispute, a dictionary is the final arbiter (in the UK it is based on the Collins dictionary). But if you start allowing celebrities, who decides? If your opponent has never heard of Justin Bieber, why should they accept it? If you were playing palaeontologists, you would be allowed Edward Drinker Cope, but I doubt many outside that field would agree with the tag “celebrity”.
However, Scrabble is not allowing “celebrities, places and products”. Mattel, who hold the rights to Scrabble worldwide (except the US and Canada), are introducing a new version of Scrabble called “Scrabble Trickster” which will, amongst other twists on the classic, allow the use of proper nouns.
I’ve never quite understood the snobbery surrounding the use of proper nouns in Scrabble. As is pointed out in the CNet article posted above, many names are nouns in their own right, and so would be accepted. In the BBC article, it makes it clear that a small number of proper nouns are accepted in traditional Scrabble, so long as they appear in the list based on the Collins dictionary. I’ve just used the online Collins Scrabble Checker to discover that my own name is perfectly valid in Scrabble, and worth a minimum of 6 points, whilst my wife’s name is not allowed, despite being a type of rose.
If proper nouns are so abhorrent, then why allow any? Why not just be consistent in the rules and say “no proper nouns at all, under any circumstances”?
Or is this just the frustrated player in me, petulantly sulking because his opponent has just put down all their tiles on a triple word score. And they used a Q. On a triple letter square…