"as times change, language evolves."
September 14, 2020 3:53 PM   Subscribe

In July of this year Hasbro, the company that owns the Scrabble brand in the US, quietly "agreed to remove all slurs from their word list for Scrabble tournament play." and changed the game rules to reflect this (archived link) Response was anything but quiet among Scrabble tournament players. As John Chew, the chair of the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) says "I couldn’t have found a bigger wedge issue if I tried." Chew supported this move, but found it a hard sell with NASPA, though they did eventually come around. Scrabble pundit Stefan Fatsis wrote about the issue for Slate, apparently on a quest to include as many of the slurs in his article as possible. The last update to the NASPA Word List was in 2018.

Bonus content: this 40 minute documentary of tournament play from 2002, Word Slingers.

Also I hope it should go without saying but please try to discuss this topic without bringing the slurs into this thread. NYT article is slur-free as are all the other links besides the Fatsis one.
posted by jessamyn (83 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, some of the arguments against are pretty ahistorical and short-sighted. The only slur used to whip up racist mobs is the n-word so all other slurs are OK? It was within the lifetime of our parents and grandparents that we whipped up anti-Japanese hatred with a particular three-letter slur.
posted by muddgirl at 3:59 PM on September 14, 2020 [4 favorites]


Yeah I think a lot of the people who are really good at Scrabble are people who are super analytical and mathy and have a bit of a beep-boop approach to other people (based on my watching of this documentary and another that is on AZ Prime called Word Wars). I really appreciate Hasbro and John Chew doing the heavy lifting on this so they didn't have to get bogged down in arguing it out from first principles. And, of course, I am reminded of this XKCD cartoon which is only tangentially relevant to this but does speak to the issue, especially in the lower part, about how being entirely points-focused isn't how most of us play anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 4:06 PM on September 14, 2020 [9 favorites]


I hope they discover that za is a slur for pizza.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:13 PM on September 14, 2020 [35 favorites]


Stefan Fatsis thinks "Jew" all by itself is a slur? Decontextualised? That kind of tells me everything I need to know about the guy, really.
posted by Jilder at 4:17 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


From the Fatsis piece:
“At the moment, all the fun is being sucked out of Scrabble,” said Nicky Deco, a player from Kent, England, who runs a Scrabble page on Facebook
All the fun of using words that can give offense?
He told one reporter that playing a slur in Scrabble constituted “hate speech” and that “the right to use hate speech” was “a very popular opinion among Scrabble players.”
I imagine that shocking your opponent with an offensive word is a form of strategy, attempting to put them off their game. But it's horrible.
Scrabble players do no such thing. They aren’t sending a message. By laying down letters, they are affirming that a word is a word, and nothing more.
I mean, honestly, I understand that line of thought. It's myopic, non-inclusive, and kind of offensive, but the idea that "we" are just putting down words with no context is attractive, especially to white cis men who are generally unaffected by those words.
posted by hanov3r at 4:17 PM on September 14, 2020 [21 favorites]


"Jew", as a descriptive, is not offensive, and not technically legal in Scrabble (as it's a proper noun). However, the verb form? Is offensive and was legal.
posted by hanov3r at 4:19 PM on September 14, 2020 [50 favorites]


Stefan Fatsis thinks "Jew" all by itself is a slur? Decontextualised? That kind of tells me everything I need to know about the guy, really.

Scrabble doesn't allow proper nouns, so this would be the offensive lowercase verb version of the word.

To put it another way, "JEW" is (was) a legal Scrabble word only because of antisemitism.
posted by theodolite at 4:20 PM on September 14, 2020 [39 favorites]


I was on the fence about this - as a competitive scrabble player - until I read the below (it may be from John Chew) - I'm now absolutely convinced it was the right move.


"The officially acceptable words are nothing more than an arbitrary list, which we update every 5 years….. see the rules for inclusion, which by definition are arbitrary.....and the removal of some widely known, but abhorrent words will disadvantage no one, and add to the comfort of many."
posted by lalochezia at 4:38 PM on September 14, 2020 [27 favorites]


And, of course, I am reminded of this XKCD cartoon which is only tangentially relevant to this but does speak to the issue, especially in the lower part, about how being entirely points-focused isn't how most of us play anyhow.

Funny thing is, in my family that CLITORIS was going to get played, no question. Didn't matter if kids were in the room. Didn't matter if a kid was the one playing it (the adults would've been proud of my vocabulary). So I understand the attitude that words in Scrabble are just words stripped of meaning... but that approach to the game should be an opt-in thing, suitable for house rules, rather than the default in public venues (edit: with regard to slurs, not "clitoris"!). John Chew had it right when he wrote:
No matter how little meaning matters to us [...] it tells others that if they cannot distance themselves from those meanings, we neither value their stories nor welcome them into our community.
posted by aws17576 at 4:41 PM on September 14, 2020 [3 favorites]


Yeah I think a lot of the people who are really good at Scrabble are people who are super analytical and mathy and have a bit of a beep-boop approach to other people.

Yeah, so I definitely have a beep-boop approach to people. Even so, what words get onto a list like this has always been an arbitrary decision. Modifying the decision tree to maybe not denigrate so many people isn't something that should be such a shockingly horrible thing.
posted by parliboy at 4:51 PM on September 14, 2020 [9 favorites]


"Scrabble Players" are a lot like "Chess Players", "MtG Players" and "Go Players". They are on a completely different level from the rest of us.
posted by Windopaene at 4:52 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Yeah I should be clear, I am also primarily a person with a beep-boop interpersonal approach but who also plays a lot, a LOT, of Scrabble. And me and my partner have a system, we use whatever the dictionary allows us (for now, slurs are okay, at some point, they won't be) but we make donations to relevant charities when we play slurs to acknowledge that language means things. And if I'm playing outside my household, I just won't use them. Life's too short. It's just a game, etc. My mom, who taught me everything I know about Scrabble when I was a kid, got a bit too much joy out of the transgressive nature of playing slurs (See what I did!?") and it always made me somewhat uncomfortable.
posted by jessamyn at 5:04 PM on September 14, 2020 [15 favorites]


I kind of love the slippery slope argument, as if anything involving decision-making is both impossible and ill-advised. "Where will we stop? What if we ban all the words??" As if nobody has ever thought this through and there are no existing lists that could be used as a guide.

Imagine applying that absolutism to other things: "If I decide to eat ravioli for dinner, where do I stop? What if, instead of eating nine, I eat 90? What if I eat all the food in my house? Better to skip dinner entirely."
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:15 PM on September 14, 2020 [30 favorites]


I know the FPP said no slurs, but Stefan Fatsis seems like a real asshole.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:37 PM on September 14, 2020 [8 favorites]


[Please note this is a post made as part of MeFi's Fundraising Month. Read more about this project here. Also I picked the topic today. 😁]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:39 PM on September 14, 2020 [9 favorites]


> "Where will we stop? What if we ban all the words??"

🤔

Qwirkle?

Or perhaps a hitherto yet uninvented competitive multiplayer form of Sudoku? I'm in.
posted by pwnguin at 5:49 PM on September 14, 2020 [10 favorites]


That Slate article will stand as an exemplar of “Slate pitch” forever.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:58 PM on September 14, 2020


I’m conscious of my skin color (white), gender (male), and implicit biases. But I think it should be possible to reconcile these two thoughts: Some words are offensive, grossly so, and they are still words. Which is why I opposed cleansing the word list.

As a white English-speaking male, there are not a lot of slur words thrown at him from people with more power, or people who speak person-specific words with anger and disdain. Easy to say “Words are just words” when your experience keeps you out of the receiving end.
posted by Silvery Fish at 6:01 PM on September 14, 2020 [16 favorites]


Stefan Fatsis thinks "Jew" all by itself is a slur? Decontextualised? That kind of tells me everything I need to know about the guy, really.

Fatsis doesn't consider "Jew" as a slur. Scrabble does. When the term Jew is capitalized, it is simply descriptive. It's the use of the term in lower case in anti-Semitic phrases that's considered offensive. (All valid Scrabble words are in lower case.) The old Scrabble dictionary entry was "To bargain with – an offensive term."
posted by jonp72 at 6:06 PM on September 14, 2020 [6 favorites]


There are a lot of words in Scrabble that I have never seen outside of Scrabble or that seem to exist primarily as "Scrabble Words" (tm).

I view the word list as part of the rules, in a way. This is a list of the letter sequences that you are allowed to use in a game. Why is "UT" allowed? Because it is. Why are these Chinese pinyinizations allowed and these other ones not? Why not? There really is no other reason. Is "ZA" actually a word? Really?

If you accept that some words are there "just because" then is it really hard to accept that some words not be there for objectively better reasons?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:19 PM on September 14, 2020 [14 favorites]


There is a very instructive timeline on the National American Scrabble Players Association website that explains how the change in the word list took place.

Timeline
2020-06-11
Jim Hughes asks if NASPA can remove the N word from the playing lexicon.

2020-06-13
John Chew asks Advisory Board to vote on removing all offensive slurs by 2020-09-01.

2020-06-18
After deliberating by email, the AB convened by Zoom to discuss the issue further, deciding to solicit more public feedback in the form of a poll.

2020-06-20
Original letter is sent out inviting people to participate in online polling.

2020-07-05
Poll remains open, but statistical results are tabulated from over 1,000 responses are tabulated.

2020-07-07
Chew announces that he had had a meeting with Hasbro, and reported “I personally agreed with them that all the slurs should come out of our lexicon. It’s the right thing to do, and I will make sure that it happens. I have asked the Advisory Board to vote their consciences, because I think this is an important moment in the history of our association. Everyone should know how their board represented them on this weighty issue.”

2020-07-08
Hasbro announces that slurs will no longer be permitted in any SCRABBLE play, and that NASPA has agreed to remove them from NWL2018

2020-07-09
AB met by Zoom from 8:00-10:45 PM ET to vote on Chew's original motion, defeating it by a vote of 6 to 4.

2020-07-09
Chew consulted with the Board of Trustees by phone, and agreed to honor his commitment to Hasbro, overturning the Advisory Board's ruling.

2020-07-12
The NASPA Dictionary Committee convenes to review word selection criteria and the tentative list of offensive slurs.

2020-08-20
The NASPA Dictionary Committee submits a draft report on which words should be categorized as offensive slurs.

The use of slurs and derogatory terms should be discouraged, but you can also agree that John Chew and Hasbro also ruled by fiat in ignoring a poll of NASPA's members and overturning NASPA's is problematic too.
posted by jonp72 at 6:24 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


There's also a draft report on the banned words linked here. The actual list of forbidden words is only accessible through a password protected forum for NASPA players, but there's also a list on page 5 of borderline words that were not struck as offensive, yet which some Metafilter members might view as more offensive than the words that were struck.
posted by jonp72 at 6:33 PM on September 14, 2020


Why is "UT" allowed?

Because the Flaming Carrot plays occasionally.
posted by delfin at 6:46 PM on September 14, 2020 [6 favorites]


Yeah, having read that PDF I was surprised that a couple of those borderline words weren't removed. Hopefully they'll get removed soon.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:26 PM on September 14, 2020


ignoring a poll of NASPA's members

I didn't see the results of the member poll anywhere, did you?

I think that John Chew saw it this way: Hasbro was set in what they were planning on doing ("We're a family game!") in removing playing offensive word from their official rules. They could, conceivably, not allow NASPA the use of their trademark. This could potentially turn into a thing. So the words are still there, still in the dictionary (I think?) but they're not allowed in tournament play.
posted by jessamyn at 7:28 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


236 words removed out of 100,000[+] is 00.24% or less of the available dictionary (rounding off), if anyone's curious.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:35 PM on September 14, 2020 [5 favorites]


By including the words in the dictionary, someone can play them, and then what, we all have a good think about what the word means and how offensive it is? People already know the words are offensive and either don't use them or don't care and do use them.

On the other hand by removing the words from the dictionary the person who was going to play one has to stop themselves and recognize that they can't use the word because it's offensive. They might not be personally offended by it and they can have a good long conversation with themselves about the fairness of them not being able to use the word they wanted to in a game. I don't think it'll be a productive conversation but it won't have to involve anyone else so it has that going for it.

pwnguin, I do wonder about words with multiple meanings. Maybe once we've made it so that no one uses the words in their offensive senses they can revise the dictionary to include them again. Something to work towards no?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:49 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


By including the words in the dictionary, someone can play them, and then what, we all have a good think about what the word means and how offensive it is?

You won’t be able to play slurs in tournaments, which rely on the official dictionary. Which makes tournaments more welcoming to people who are the usual targets of those slurs.

If people want to be bigots in private, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them. But they should have to do it hidden from public view and preferably mired in shame.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:55 PM on September 14, 2020 [19 favorites]


The Scrabble list isn't really a list of words, as much as a list of strings that sometimes overlap with words, because Scrabble isn't a game about words as much as it is a game about arranging strings in high scoring ways. This is why it includes completely bogus words like "za" and omits everyday cromulent words like "fam" and various verbed nouns. If you play at a high level, presumably you have to do a lot of memorization to distinguish between the list and the language.

As a grammar anarchist, I think the entire thing should be smashed, of course. I play descriptive Scrabble, but only with people who are willing to play in good faith, and I am happier for it. But if you are going to insist on the arbitrary word list, it's hard to understand why you would insist it include slurs...
posted by surlyben at 8:06 PM on September 14, 2020 [13 favorites]


Words that are capitalized can't be used in Scrabble play, anyway. But, can't we just drop all the apostrophes already, it would save millions of keystrokes every year. I once bluffed a zebu. Ha ha ha.
posted by Oyéah at 8:07 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: I once bluffed a zebu.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:10 PM on September 14, 2020 [4 favorites]


I may also be a grammar anarchist? Because I have an English degree people often think I love crosswords and Scrabble and stuff like that, but mostly I dislike how restrictive they are and find them annoying.

Anyway, this is a good and right decision and I hope those who do love this game continue to enjoy their fascination with conjoining letter strings assigned arbitrary number values, minus slurs.
posted by emjaybee at 8:16 PM on September 14, 2020 [6 favorites]


The Scrabble list isn't really a list of words, as much as a list of strings that sometimes overlap with words, because Scrabble isn't a game about words as much as it is a game about arranging strings in high scoring ways

This is really well put! The "memorize this arbitrary list of words to win" has always put me off the game (as someone who is happy to play other games with big learning curves).

I think the best solution would be throw out the entire word list and replace it with esperanto. Really make 'em work for it.
posted by malphigian at 8:17 PM on September 14, 2020 [10 favorites]


It's interesting to see this story in the context of Metafilter's implementation of a slur filter.

They're also a small organization (their annual income is less than $200K) and they are facing some of the same issues: defining a list of slurs, communicating with angry groups of people, convincing a bunch of mostly white middle class nerds that slurs a big enough problem to be worth the difficulty of implementation.

At least here the conversation came from within the community and not from the top-down fiat of a corporate sponsor.
posted by JDHarper at 8:26 PM on September 14, 2020 [8 favorites]


Anecdata: among my acquaintances are a loose cabal of white-collar White Gay Men Of A Certain Age, several of whom are top-ranked tournament Scrabble players, and I am scared to ask them for their views.
posted by sixswitch at 9:09 PM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


but you can also agree that John Chew and Hasbro also ruled by fiat in ignoring a poll of NASPA's members and overturning NASPA's is problematic too.

I don't think it is? If NASPA can't make a humane decision themselves, it is absolutely right for someone to force them to do make it. Overturning or not listening to the concerns of bigots is just so not a problem for me.
posted by Dysk at 11:41 PM on September 14, 2020 [13 favorites]


>Stefan Fatsis thinks "Jew" all by itself is a slur? Decontextualised? That kind of tells me everything I need to know about the guy, really.
posted by Jilder at 4:17 PM on September 14 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


“Jew” is of course not a slur and as far as I can tell does not appear in the new NASPA slur list (still discoverable with a little searching). But unfortunately it does appear on at least one banned offensive words list for Scrabble players - namely , the one from the Seattle Scrabble Club which also includes the term “Jesuit” (which *was * a slur hundreds of years ago but has long been embraced as the positive term for themselves by the Society of Jesus)
posted by Bwithh at 2:01 AM on September 15, 2020


I am sympathetic/susceptible to many of these arguments, but I have also lived a life being called several of these terms and seeing their presence be all the excuse people need to repeatedly say them, often as part of some tedious boundary testing behaviour rather than an overt display of bigotry, but it might be super cool if I/we could expend less energy having to constantly try to discern between the two. Maybe Scrabble being "just a game" is actually /more/ incentive to lessen these sorts of issues?

Also, Esperanto Scrabble sounds like a hoot. A few years ago, we had to deal with a francophone Scrabble champ who didn't speak French, because you can indeed play quite effectively divorcing the words from their meaning, but those words still have meaning and consequence.
posted by seraphine at 2:20 AM on September 15, 2020 [6 favorites]


The core issue here seems to be whether or not playing a word in scrabble amounts to saying the word. To a first approximation, it does not: To play a word, you don't have to even know what it means, and there are many world-class players who are not even fluent in English.

But if that's really the case, why is there a "just for fun" version of scrabble where only offensive words are allowed? I mean, if all players agree, fine by me... but that's not the case in tournament play.

The more I think about it, the more there's no logical way out for the pro-slur faction. If the words have no meaning, then the loss of a few words means nothing. If they do have meaning, stop saying those words like any civilized person would. What's the problem?

I'm probably more than averagely against policing language (at least for a mefite), but it's clear to me that the intensity of this debate comes from the fact that players enjoy using slurs in scrabble. And if that's true, then they're saying the words, and they should stop.

(Here's a possible compromise though: Whenever a group of players sits down to play scrabble, they can decide to include offensive words or not. If one of them says no, they're not playable. Otherwise who cares, nobody's making me look at their board. Hmm.)
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 3:18 AM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]


The Scrabble list isn't really a list of words, as much as a list of strings that sometimes overlap with words, because Scrabble isn't a game about words as much as it is a game about arranging strings in high scoring ways

You can play Scrabble that way, and many people do, especially at the upper echelons of the sport. But it seems to me an entirely joyless way to play.

(I play a metric fuckton of Words With Friends and have dropped just as many QIs and ZAs as the next friend, as well as the occasional word I have never seen or heard before, but I get the most pleasure out of a short, well-placed common word that scores high. )
posted by chavenet at 4:32 AM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]


Is "ZA" actually a word?

On the occasions Mrs. Example and I play Scrabble (or its online nonunion equivalent, Words With Friends), we refer to "za" as the Word of Shame and hang our heads when forced to play it.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:13 AM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]


Stefan Fatsis thinks "Jew" all by itself is a slur? Decontextualised? That kind of tells me everything I need to know about the guy, really.
Scrabble doesn't allow proper nouns, so this would be the offensive lowercase verb version of the word.

But nazi is still OK?
posted by MtDewd at 6:15 AM on September 15, 2020


You can play Scrabble that way, and many people do, especially at the upper echelons of the sport. But it seems to me an entirely joyless way to play.

Sure, but outside the upper echelons of the sport, offensive words have already been removed from the official Scrabble dictionary for home play, as well as for licensed digital products. Words with Friends has also taken many offensive words off their word list.
posted by muddgirl at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


If you play Scrabble online (which seems to be increasingly hard to do) or a Scrabble-like game anyway, you are pretty much forced to use the stupid words if you want to compete at all. So I have become accustomed to them. But two house rules we use when playing in person have made the game much more enjoyable:

1. If a blank has been played, you can replace the blank with the appropriate letter from your rack and take the blank for your rack--you need not use it right away.

2. Separate the letters into two bags: one for vowels and one for consonants (the Ys go into the consonants, one blank in each bag). Whenever you get to pick letters, you may pick from either bag as you choose. You can still end up with a bad rack of letters, but at least you won't end up with four I's two U's and an O.
posted by rikschell at 6:59 AM on September 15, 2020 [6 favorites]


But nazi is still OK?

Why, are we worried about offending Nazis?
posted by XtinaS at 8:02 AM on September 15, 2020 [11 favorites]


This decision reminds me of the time that 'jew' (and a bunch of other offensive words, not all of them related to group membership) was removed from the third edition of the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary (it's the one used for casual play, as opposed to the word list used for tournament play). This was in the '90s.

I'm not sure what's worse--that it took the serious players 25 years to get to the same decision, or that a lot of them still don't seem to support it.

Also, I know it was way upthread, but Scrabylon is also a documentary about high-level Scrabble play.
posted by box at 8:11 AM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]


This is really well put! The "memorize this arbitrary list of words to win" has always put me off the game (as someone who is happy to play other games with big learning curves).

Technically you created this comment by memorizing an arbitrary list of words to communicate with.

In any event, I suppose I have used a few of the obscure two-letter words in Scrabble from time to time, but I never went to any trouble to commit a list of them to memory. I think if it as a foreseeable result of being interested in language.

I am not an avid enough player to know if there is a term for when you play e.g. a vertical word immediately alongside another vertical and thus you also get a few two-letter words simultaneously. An example might be like this, adding OHM to the existing HOUSE:

HO
OH
UM
S
E

You also get HO, OH, and UM. Do Scrabble players employ some terminology for such a play?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2020


This whole situation is a real quyzbuk. I just hope it doesn't escalate to the level of a duke-tastrophe.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


The two-letter words are pretty easy to memorize--there are only a hundred or so. If you can memorize the state capitals or the multiplication tables, you can memorize the two-letter Scrabble words.

The three-letter words, though, there's like a thousand of those. I'm a not-un-serious Scrabble player, but people who memorize the three-letter words are a lot more serious about Scrabble than I am.
posted by box at 1:20 PM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]


Any attempt to rule against certain speech has a bit of a yuck factor, but a low-stakes word game seems like an obvious place to do some good and no harm. I'm with stoneweaver - I'd rather lose.

Proposed alternative rule - you can play it if you could legitimately reclaim the word in real life? That one would really have to be among friends.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:24 PM on September 15, 2020


I wouldn't consider myself among friends if they suggested I could use some additional words in a game of Scrabble that they themselves wouldn't use.
posted by Wood at 3:16 PM on September 15, 2020


Do Scrabble players employ some terminology for such a play?

I think technically they call those parallels. And then when you add letters to the beginning or end of a word to make another word, those are called hooks. (so like CAT into CATS is a basic one but HOST into GHOST is a slightly more complex one.)
posted by jessamyn at 3:22 PM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]


I think technically they call those parallels. And then when you add letters to the beginning or end of a word to make another word, those are called hooks. (so like CAT into CATS is a basic one but HOST into GHOST is a slightly more complex one.)

That's what I'd call them, but I'd add that these types of plays are so common as to be unremarkable in competitive Scrabble. Most of the time, the best play is one that makes 2 or more new words. Two- and three-letter words are key to that. As a corollary, the tiles that make lots of valid two-letter words (such as H, M, X) are valuable, while the ones that don't make any (C and V) are best disposed of with all dispatch.

When I played at a semi-serious club, there were lists of legal two-letter words at every table, and the players who hadn't memorized them yet were allowed to consult them during a game. That's how I learned the list without really trying. I don't think interest in language alone will do it, though; the boundaries of the list are pretty arbitrary.
posted by aws17576 at 4:45 PM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]


Of course I support the outcome, but it's a weird consequence of how our world works that an unintended consequence will be legions of serious scrabble players, including potentially vulnerable players, poring over the banned list to memorize it, and so for a good while there will be far more exposure to those words than if they had been left alone. You just can't clean up a mess without making a bigger mess somehow.
posted by hypnogogue at 9:55 PM on September 15, 2020


What would be the advantage in memorising lists of words you can't use? In the medium and long term at least, this will mean the word lists serious players are memorising won't contain the slurs any more, as they're no longer legal Scrabble words. The fact that a few people might need to look at a list briefly right now to update themselves on what to remove from their actual memorisation list is a drop in a bucket by comparison.
posted by Dysk at 11:20 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


(Also I've never understood why za is a legal Scrabble word. It's short for pizza. Abbreviations are one of the categories of words you can't have, like proper nouns. So the inclusion of za has always struck me as counter to both the letter and spirit of the rules, and a naked attempt at catering to tournament play by trying to balance the gameplay by lying about the underlying language.)
posted by Dysk at 11:26 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


Za isn't an abbreviation, it's a word derived by shortening, much like bus, chimp, memo, or flu. The only rule it violates is the rule that, to be valid in Scrabble, a word should have been used by someone, somewhere, ever.
posted by aws17576 at 12:41 AM on September 16, 2020 [9 favorites]


Eh, I heard people working at something resembling a pizza place refer to it as "za" back in the late 90s. It really annoyed me back in my prescriptivist days, but now I make the choice not to use the term and let other people speak (or play) in whatever way makes them happy.

What would be the advantage in memorising lists of words you can't use?

People who have already memorized the entire Scrabble dictionary, or at least think they have, will feel an understandable need to memorize the words that are no longer allowed, lest they attempt to play them and be penalized after the resulting challenge.
posted by wierdo at 5:30 AM on September 16, 2020


Yeah, but that's a fairly small and inherently time-limited problem compared to the alternative: everyone who wants to play high-level Scrabble needing to memorise lists containing all the slurs going forward, as they have been up to now.
posted by Dysk at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2020


Part of my response to the Scrabble players bemoaning the restriction on slurs is, "Read the fucking room!" I mean seriously. NOW, at THIS moment in history, with Black Lives Matter, with rising anti-semitism, with global protests against police brutality against minorities, you're going to take a stand on your right to use the n-word to get a triple-word-score?

I also wonder what the response would be if the people at the top replaced all the slurs with nonsense words made out of the same letters in a different order like kedy, egring, gaftog, icps, etc. and said, "Hey, you can still use all those letters in a word so you're not stuck if you pull them, but you can't use the slurs." It seems that would cut the rug right out from under them, and anyone who doubled down on the slurs would obviously just doing it bc they like to use them.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]


an understandable need to memorize the words that are no longer allowed, lest they attempt to play them and be penalized after the resulting challenge.

It's that hard to remember not to use racial slurs? I mean, I could see if it is some old, obscure slur that you've never heard and only know as a scrabble word, but I would think it would be pretty easy to remember not to use most of them.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:02 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]


Always a lot of "whataboutism" coming up when racist stuff gets squashed, it seems.
posted by tiny frying pan at 12:13 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]


It's that hard to remember not to use racial slurs?

The funny thing about competitive Scrabble is that many people who do well at it and play at Tournament levels (at least in the US, can't speak to other places) do not know the definitions of the words they are playing. So the good news in this case is that if they're memorizing the lists, they are not receiving/memorizing the definitions. If they know the definitions "Don't use slurs" should be adequate.

In one of the recent documentaries I watched, there was a guy from the UK (which has a slightly different dictionary) and one of the things he was concerned with was making sure he was using English words that were in the US dictionary as opposed to English words that were in the UK dictionary.
posted by jessamyn at 1:31 PM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]


Why is "UT" allowed?

It used be one of the notes of the scale in standard solfeggio notation.

Do re mi fa sol la ti UT

Just because Julie Andrews doesn't sing it, that doesn't mean it isn't a legit word.
posted by jonp72 at 5:21 PM on September 16, 2020 [5 favorites]


ignoring a poll of NASPA's members

I didn't see the results of the member poll anywhere, did you?


Excuse me, but that is completely misunderstanding what happened. The whole point is that a poll of NASPA's members was fielded, but the results of the member poll were never posted, because Hasbro and John Chew made the decision while the poll was still in the field, thus rendering the results of the poll moot. Since the results have never been posted, we don't even know what NASPA members actually thought. Metafilter members have been stereotyping NASPA members as "beep boom" social clueless people, but have you thought that maybe NASPA members aren't bigots & that maybe they had some thoughtful things to say about the need to avoid perpetuating racial stereotypes vs. maintaining a friendly competitive game & that may be their views should be at least been given a hearing instead of being steamrolled over by a corporate board.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I have to say I find this "beep boop" characterization of NASPA members offensive. And if taking offense is the coin of the realm at Metafiler, then you can better damn believe that I will spend that coin.
posted by jonp72 at 5:37 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]


Let's be clear. The alternative to getting rid of offensive words is that Hasbro pulls their license and NAPSA is no longer NAPSA at all. "Polling the membership" was a cowardly decision by the advisory board in the first place.
posted by muddgirl at 5:59 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]


Let's be clear. The alternative to getting rid of offensive words is that Hasbro pulls their license and NAPSA is no longer NAPSA at all. "Polling the membership" was a cowardly decision by the advisory board in the first place.

If that's your view, they shouldn't have had the poll then. It is absolutely insulting to field a poll, as if you care what people think and have to say, and then act as if you really don't care what they have to say.
posted by jonp72 at 6:12 PM on September 16, 2020


Excuse me, but that is completely misunderstanding what happened.

I'm sincerely sorry if this touched a nerve but I literally meant "I didn't see the results, did you?"
posted by jessamyn at 6:58 PM on September 16, 2020


It is absolutely insulting to field a poll, as if you care what people think and have to say, and then act as if you really don't care what they have to say.

You know what's insulting? Making it a matter of popular opinion as to whether minorities should be treated with dignity and respect.

If the NASPA poll had come back 100% in favour of using slurs, that would not have made it a good decision to continue to allow them. So yes, I don't give a damn what they had to say, because it really wasn't relevant if a majority of players supported it or not.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:19 PM on September 16, 2020 [22 favorites]


Not everything has to be a democracy, especially when the stakes aren't higher than they are here. Running the poll was stupid and should not have happened. Given that it did, burying it and not publishing the results was the best course of action; NASPA can only come off as neutral or awful in the results - 100% in favour of scrapping slurs wouldn't help them any, and anything else would make them look like cartoon villains. And given that NASPA is made up of predominantly white, straight, normative people, we can be pretty sure that the poll results wouldn't have done them any favours. Even 10% would be a PR disaster.
posted by Dysk at 10:52 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]


"We were handed rope, I demand that we be taken to the gibbet so that we have the opportunity to hang ourselves" just isn't that sensible.
posted by Dysk at 10:55 PM on September 16, 2020


It's that hard to remember not to use racial slurs?

Past discussion here on Metafilter has made quite clear that the particular set of words used as slurs are not universal around the entire world. In the comments on this very post it has also been pointed out that there are a nontrivial number of English-language tournament players who speak English as a second language, if they speak it at all. So yeah, some players do indeed need to memorize a list of slurs in order not to play them, thanks to their having previously been included in the US Scrabble dictionary.
posted by wierdo at 4:55 AM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


When I played at a semi-serious club, there were lists of legal two-letter words at every table, and the players who hadn't memorized them yet were allowed to consult them during a game.

I keep such a list in my scrabble box, because back when I played a lot of online scrabble, I used to know the list really well and it meant that I could just crush anyone I played with in real life, so the list gave them some hope. And then eventually when I started forgetting the list, it was just nice to have it for my own purposes. It feels good to know that this is not considered really beyond the pale in terms of scrabble playing.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:19 AM on September 17, 2020


Do re mi fa sol la ti UT
On a lighter note: I did not know this. I'm now imagining someone sweetly singing a scale only to end on a totally flat, atonal, and guttural "UHHHHHT." Maybe they're screaming it? Either way, I'm into it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2020 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of South Park's "people who annoy you" in which the only reason that Randy uses that word is due to wanting to win the money. I don't know what prizes are awarded at tournaments but if it becomes between winning and using an offensive word I'm going to say most people will choose winning. So banning the words is fine in that context, people who are going to use it at home will use it. Are there statistics on how many times the banned words were used in tournaments?

So yeah, some players do indeed need to memorize a list of slurs in order not to play them, thanks to their having previously been included in the US Scrabble dictionary.

Is this really a problem? Do Scrabble players routinely memorize all words not in the Scrabble dictionary? I assume this is akin to slang and other words that might seem playable but aren't.
posted by geoff. at 9:35 AM on September 17, 2020


So yeah, some players do indeed need to memorize a list of slurs in order not to play them, thanks to their having previously been included in the US Scrabble dictionary.

As I said when I posted, I could understand if there are some really obscure ones that someone knows only as a scrabble word, and that extends to people for whom English is a second language, but -- and maybe this is just me here -- I would bet that at least a few slurs (as in the infamous n-word) are pretty well known, even among the non-Native English speakers.

And anyway, this seems like a red herring. The people complaining publicly about the decision seem to be fully aware of what the newly removed words mean. Call me when there are a bunch of EFL speakers saying, "Hey, we didn't know these words meant negative things in English, we just use them to score points and this will hurt us in tournament play!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:48 AM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


(The list is behind a paywall? Am I reading that correctly? Can someone link to the words in question?)
posted by geoff. at 10:46 AM on September 17, 2020


Always a lot of "whataboutism" coming up when racist stuff gets squashed, it seems.

So, so, so true. I've just been involved in a similar effort in a different domain, where 0.0003% of content was affected.

The amount of unexamined, unrecognized privilege that was asserted during the process was just stunning to me.

Most of it took the form of "well you have to know my special story of why I used that term, it was our little joke, it was ironical, you had to be there" . They just could not imagine that other people don't get the same benefit of the doubt towards their intentions or a pedestal to explain themselves, and are sometimes, in fact, shot dead.

Not surprising, but stunning in its depth.
posted by Dashy at 3:54 PM on September 17, 2020 [3 favorites]


Scrabble drives me up the wall, because it's all about words, where as the beauty of language is putting several words together in phrases or sentences.

Just needed to get that off my chest.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:38 AM on September 18, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'd say you need Scrabble Sentence Cube, but it's not that great of a game.
posted by box at 9:27 AM on September 18, 2020


Bless you box, I'll never let the cats sleep in your again!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:51 AM on September 18, 2020 [2 favorites]


I have to say I am quite disappointed by the people in this thread admitting they play slurs that don't apply to them. Instead of donating to ease your guilt, perhaps you could ... not play them?
posted by daybeforetheday at 9:14 PM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]




« Older r/AskHistorians conference this week   |   Judge Asked Harvard to Find Out Why So Many Black... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments