Entry 365: “Po” Is a Four-Letter Word

I once knew how to play mah jongg. My mother taught me, and it was fun for awhile, until they changed all the rules.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it doesn’t matter, because I could tell you all about it and you’d be unfamiliar with it all over again in a year.

You see, every year you have to buy a new card that tells you which hands are valid for thatcardn[1] year. It’s as if you’re playing poker, and you bet the house on a flush, and someone says, “Idiot! Didn’t you get the new rules? Flushes are out this year, unless it’s a full flush–three diamonds and two hearts.”

Seriously–what the hell kind of stupid game changes the rules every year?

I’ll tell what kind of game doesn’t: Scrabble®. That’s a game with rules you can count on. Once you memorize all 100,000+ words in the Scrabble Dictionary, you’re set for life, ready to drop a “ca,” a “zax,” or a “muzjiks” on an unsuspecting opponent at any time.   You don’t have some National Scrabble League coming out with a new card every year, telling you that “horse” is no longer a valid word, but “qigong” is, even though “qigong” is obviously a made-up word consisting of whatever letters someone had laying around on their rack.

Day6ScrabbleDictionary[1]Wait! The Scrabble Dictionary has just announced that it has added 5,000 new words!  And “qigong” is one of them!

It’s my worst mah jonggian nightmare.

Where the hell do you suddenly find 5,000 previously unknown words?

Well, aging hipsters seem to be one good source. There’s a lot of 10-year-old hipster slang among the new entries, words like “frenemy” and “chillax.” There’s also “mixtape,” which may be a new word to Scrabble, but which is obsolete to the rest of the world. There are lots of tech words, too, and many multi-cultural words like “qajaq,” which is the Intuit phonetic spelling of “kayak” or some such thing, which I don’t get because I thought we were only using English words here and you know they only added “qajaq” because the word nerds are always looking for ways to use a “q” without a “u,” even though you’d have to waste a blank because there’s only one “q” available otherwise.

Where was I?

I know where I wasn’t. I wasn’t in a “quinzhee,” which, apparently, is a shelter made by burrowing into snow, and which, if laid across the top of the board (with an already-placed “u”) would score 401 points and ensure that no one ever played Scrabble with you again.

You can’t do that with an “igloo!”

Look, they want to add “buzzkill,” “mojito,” “selfie” and “ponzu?” I can deal with that. But they also added four 2-letter words like “te”! Blasphemy!

“Te,” evidently, is a variant of “ti,” the note on the musical scale. What’s that all about? They added a word because too many people didn’t know how to spell “ti?”

Adding 2-letter words is like moving the pitcher’s mound farther from home plate. Itxi makes the game too easy. I believe that, with the addition of “te,” “po,” “da,” and “gi,” you can pretty much stick any vowel onto any consonant and claim it’s a word. That has major implications because it’s the 2-letter words that let you lay in other words parallel to what’s already on the board, which lets you score twice and makes other people say “What the hell is ‘xi’?”

And here’s the most shocking thing about the new words being added: they include “schmutz.” I can’t recall if I’ve ever used “schmutz” in a Scrabble game, but I can tell you that it wouldn’t have been challenged by anyone here in the New York metro area. Not only could you put schmutz on the board, you could wipe it off the board if someone got rugulah crumbs on it.

Here’s my question about “schmutz.” I understand that technology has created new words, and that 20-somethings in Brooklyn have made up new words while eating their gourmet food truck dinners. But what has “schmutz” done in the last 10 or 100 years to suddenly make the Scrabble Dictionary take notice?

I mean, my mother had schmutz. My grandparents had schmutz. We probably have schmutz in our family that goes back generations. Why now, Scrabble Dictionary?

And if there’s schmutz, can a schmuck be far behind?

See you soon.

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