A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The new Scrabble words (if you use the British Scrabble dictionary)

A couple of people asked for my opinion on the "new Scrabble words", so I looked them over. The first and most important thing to point out is that these new words have been added to Collins Official Scrabble Words (CSW), effectively the Scrabble tournament dictionary for most of the world, but not for the United States, Canada, or Thailand. Since Collins Official Scrabble Words (equivalent to the "SOWPODS" word list) automatically includes the American Scrabble tournament word list, new words are only added from the British side when they are absent from the most current American list.

There were about 2800 words added to this list. I've picked out the most interesting ones to discuss:

The good

One category of additions that I found most welcome are the many new computer and Internet terms: autosave, blogosphere, inbox, linkrot, metadata, overclock, permalink, timestamp, and whitelist.

(Less welcome is the inclusion of "readme" as an adjective (as in referring to files named "README.TXT" as "readme files").)

Other terms that I have heard frequently and seem appropriate for such a word list are: afterparty, arthouse, beestung, breadstick, buzzkill, edamame, fanboy, nunchucks, regift, ribeye, spork, and upsell.

The absence of "spork" and "nunchucks" from the American Scrabble dictionary had bothered me, so I am glad to see these additions.

The not-so-good

Other new words I am more skeptical about. "VoIP", which is clearly an acronym (Voice over Internet Protocol) is listed as a new word. Apparently some pronounce it like /voyp/ rather than spelling it out (/vee oh eye pea/), but as long as it is spelt with any capital letters, it seems clear that it can't be played in a word game without risking fisticuffs.

And they've added "XRAY", even though any sensible spelling would be "X-ray" even when it's used in a phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie...). Adding this entire phonetic alphabet has also resulted in the inclusion of "India", "Juliet", "November", "Quebec", and "Yankee".

The word grok comes from Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land where he defines it as "to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed — to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience." Grokking is a profound, transformative understanding of something. Unfortunately, the new Collins Scrabble Words list has added to the past and present participles ("grokked" and "grokking") some alternate spellings which are clearly wrong ("grocked", "groked", "grocking", and "groking"). Maybe these will get fixed in a future version.

Also, the CSW indicates that the word "quantum" has grown a second pluralization ("quantums" as opposed to the standard "quanta"). This may turn out to be one of the words that the Collins word list editors wind up eating (the traditional punishment for any quickly recalled words).

The improper verbs

The new words FACEBOOK and MYSPACE are both listed as verbs, meaning (depending on who you ask) 1) to search for someone's profile on the respective web sites, 2) to post something on these sites, or 3) just to generally use these sites. Since the words in the word list are written in all capital letters, it's not possible to tell whether these words are supposed to be retaining or dropping their capitalization in verb form. There is a history of brand names becoming lowercase verbs: Hoover ⇒ hoover (to clean with a vacuum cleaner; also, to suck up like a vacuum cleaner), Xerox ⇒ xerox (to photocopy), Velcro ⇒ velcro (to fasten together the two fabric pieces of a hook-and-loop fastener). If I had to extract or propose a rule of thumb, I'd say that a brand name can become a lowercase verb when it has been generalized beyond the original brand. The definitions of FACEBOOK and MYSPACE as verbs seem both overly broad (in the range of actions they can denote) and overly narrow (in each only referring to one particular site). In contrast, another brand name that has just appeared on this word list as a verb is PHOTOSHOP. This seems totally appropriate to me since it's been around long enough that "to photoshop" means (in my mind) to manipulate an image using graphics software, without being restricted to Adobe's Photoshop.

The rest

The definitions below are quotations from the Zyzzyva word study program, and my comments are in brackets.

BEATBOXING    a form of hip-hop music in which the voice is used to simulate percussion instruments

BETCHA    a spelling of 'bet you' representing colloquial pronunciation

BLOKART    a land vehicle with a sail

[While we can welcome this word for the whimsicality it embodies, a different spelling ("BLOWKART") has left the building. Most likely, heading in the direction of the prevailing wind.]

BOBBLEHEAD    a type of collectible doll, with head often oversized compared to its body

CATFLAP    a small opening in a door to let a cat through

CHEESESTEAK    a sandwich filled with grilled beef and cheese

CHESSBOXING    a hybrid sport which combines the sport of boxing with games of chess in alternating rounds

[While this was originally a made-up sport, there are now regular international chessboxing tournaments in London.]

CATAPHOR    a word that has the same reference as another word used later

[A cataphor is a phrase for which the meaning only becomes clear later in the sentence. Example: "Although he worked very hard at his wall-balancing lessons, Humpty Dumpty ultimately had to contend with the fact that he was still egg-shaped." He cataphorically refers to Humpty Dumpty.]

CROWDSOURCE    to outsource work to an unspecified group of people, typically by making an appeal to the general public on the Internet

CRIA    the offspring of a llama

[Apparently this word is often used in crossword puzzles.]

CUSPY    of a computer program, well written and easy to use

DISEMVOWEL    to remove the vowels from (a word in a text message, email,etc) in order to abbreviate it

EMERSED    (Of leaves) rising above the surface of water

[Plants that grow out of the water are said to be emersed. Contrast with "immersed".]

ENURN    to put into an urn, also INURN

EXERGY    a measure of the maximum amount of work that can theoretically be obtained from a system

GLAMPING    a form of camping in which participants enjoy physical comforts associated with more luxurious types of holiday

MONOTASKING    the act of performing one task at a time

MWAH    a representation of the sound of a kiss (interj)

PAREIDOLIA    a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus being perceived as significant e.g. seeing faces in clouds

PORLOCK    to hinder by an irksome intrusion or interruption

[This term comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's story of how he emerged from a dream with the poem that would have been Kubla Khan fully formed in his mind. He claims to have written down the first 54 lines (the only ones that were eventually published) before being interrupted by a visitor from Porlock. Some scholars doubt this story, but "to Porlock" makes for a great new verb. It seems to be mainly used in British English, but I vote that everyone start using it.]

RISORIUS    a facial muscle situated at the corner of the mouth

[The risorius is the muscle people use when they fake a smile (smiling with upturned lips, but not with their eyes). An authentic smile uses the zygomaticus major and zygomaticus minor muscles to pull up the corners of the mouth and also uses the orbicularis oculi muscles to raise the cheeks and form crow's feet around the eyes. Other primates (like lemurs, macaques, orangutans, gibbons, and chimpanzees) do not even have a well-defined risorius muscle.]

SKYLESS    without a sky

[It is listed in the 1911 version of the Century Dictionary with the definition: "Without sky; cloudy; dark; thick." I first thought that this word meant literally without a sky (as in a planet that has no atmosphere), and while it is occasionally used that way in science fiction, it's more generally used figuratively, in melancholy descriptions.]

SPARTICLE    a shadow particle such as a SQUARK believed to have been produced at the time of the Big Bang

[There is an theory called "supersymmetry" which would tidy up a lot of little mathematical problems with the current physics theories of how fundamental particles and forces work. Supersymmetry says that every fundamental particle has a supersymmetric partner. This scheme of adding an S to the beginning of the names of some fundamental particles to denote their hypothetical supersymmetric partners has produced such words as "sfermion", "stau sneutrino", "smuon", and "sstrange squark". These must be fun to pronounce! Sparticles are the sorts of things that physicists would love to find evidence for in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider.]

SPLISH    to splash

[The Wiktionary currently has two definitions:
splish, the noun: "(onomatopoeia, humorous) splash"


splish, the verb: "(intransitive) To make a light splashing sound."

The "light splashing" definition rings true to me.]

STOOZE    to borrow money at an interest rate of 0%, a rate typically offered by credit card companies as an incentive for new customers

[The Wikipedia entry indicates that "stoozing" money includes, not just borrowing money at a 0% interest rate, but then investing it (for instance, in a high interest savings account), and then paying it back. This is a sneaky technique for earning money, apparently named for Stooz, a user of the Motley Fool's Credit Card discussion board in the UK, who used and posted about this technique often. While it was originally referred to as "doing a Stooz", a variant spelling has developed that drops the capitalization and adds a silent E.]

STORMSTAYED    isolated or unable to travel because of adverse weather conditions, esp a snowstorm

[This is useful as a more general term than "snowed in". I suggest we import this as "stormstuck".]

SUNGAZING    the practice of staring directly at the sun at sunset or sunrise, esp in the belief that doing so allows one to survive without eating food

[Bananagrammer.com recommends stargazing or moongazing, if you value your retina. Also, eating food occasionally is a good idea, unless you can photosynthesize.]

TRUTHINESS    the quality of being considered to be true because of what the believer wishes or feels, regardless of the facts

[Coined by Stephen Colbert, this is a word more loaded with connotation than a line of text can easily convey.]

TURDUCKEN    a dish consisting of a partially deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck, which itself is stuffed with a small deboned chicken

VELLUS    as in vellus hair, short fine unpigmented hair covering the human body

[The opposite of "terminal hair" (dark, thicker body hair).]

WHOLPHIN    a hybrid of a whale and a dolphin

[At Sea Life Park in Hawaii, a bottlenose dolphin and a false killer whale that were being kept together, unexpectedly produced offspring. The false killer whale is actually another species of dolphin, but the discrepancy in sizes (the false killer whale mother was 14 feet long and weighed 2000 pounds while the father was 6 feet long and massed 400 pounds) and the fact that such a combination had never before been seen made the world's first known false-killer-whale/dolphin hybrid a surprise. The fully grown wholphin is 10 feet long and weighs 600 pounds. She is also midway between her parents in shape and color and number of teeth. (Bottlenose dolphins have 88 teeth, false killer whales, 44, and the wholphin has 66.) She, in turn, has mated with a dolphin and given birth to another wholphin. This is another surprise, as hybrid animals (like the mule) are usually infertile.

"Wholphin" is sometimes also spelt "wolphin", although this variant did not make it into the Collins Scrabble Words list.]

Two words that are not new additions, but that I learned from looking through these word lists are: SCOPA (the hair on the legs of many bees, which transport pollen from flower to flower) and UPTALKING:
UPTALKING the practice of speaking with a rising intonation at the end of each statement, as if one were asking a question

Collins provides a little Flash-based word checker you can use to see what is in their Scrabble word list. I've embedded it below.
At present, it is using the older Collins word list from 2007, but at some point, it should switch to the new 2012 list.

It makes sense that a word list that aspires to represent a more international flavor of English be larger. And I have heard on more than one occasion that British English is actually less conservative and is changing more rapidly than American English, so a faster-growing British Scrabble word list is not unexpected. Reading through all these words has been educational and, at times, fascinating, but I'm sure glad that I don't have to memorize them all!