. Indigenous activist Stephen Hagan has filed a complaint against Mattel with the Australian human rights organization to remove a series of offensive words. It all apparently started with a game of Scrabble in Baltimore. One of the three players noticed that the official Scrabble dictionary considered it acceptable to play the word „Jew“ – not as a noun, since capitalized words are not allowed in Scrabble, but as a verb. She called Hasbro Inc., which makes Scrabble; then she called the B`nai B`rith Anti-Defamation League. The ADL took an interest, Hasbro took an interest, and the result was an ongoing uproar over the company`s announcement that the next official Scrabble dictionary will be 75 to 100 insults shorter. It`s one of the strangest battles of recent times on the scarred floor of censorship vs. Insult, proof that no matter how clear and light-hearted your views on the subject are – on both sides – someone will find an argument to confuse them. No one in the Baltimore game Scrabble had actually tried to play the offensive word or draw attention to it (two of the players were Holocaust survivors). But the book is used for quasi-official purposes such as Scrabble tournaments, so it was kind of a wink. The Anti-Defamation League wrote to Hasbro calling for all racial, ethnic and religious slurs to be removed from the dictionary, accusing the company of „literally playing with hate.“ Hasbro, Williams says, was toying with the idea of a purge anyway. That`s how it continued. „His actions are seen by many as a signal of virtue, as a symbolic gesture or as `waking up,`“ he said.
Last year, the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) announced that it would remove insults and other offensive words from its tournaments. „Some members threatened to leave the association if a single word was deleted; Others threatened to leave the club if insulting words persisted. Paul Lister told Radio New Zealand`s Checkpoint programme that the formal rules of Scrabble remain the same and that any changes in New Zealand must be approved by the executive of the country`s Scrabble Association. On the other hand, aren`t swear words still words? „It`s a Pandora`s box,“ admits John D. Williams Jr., de facto spokesman and executive director of the National Scrabble Association. Since the announcement, Williams laments, he has been „the model child of American political correctness, interviewed in England, Singapore and Australia, drawn to radio talk show hosts here in Vancouver.“ Pandora`s problem, unfortunately, is real. Williams received letters asking if it was true that the game wanted to eliminate the „crippled“ (no) and the „wetback“ (yes). And recently, he received a letter from a representative of Roma or Gypsy interests in North America, in which he demanded the same non-treatment of the verb „to“. There`s also a subset of whiners who want nasty words removed not only from the Scrabble dictionary, but also from other dictionaries, a suggestion Williams, like most Scrabbler word lovers, calls „crazy.“ Scrabble was invented in 1938 by American architect Alfred Butts.
Later, he sold the rights and it was filed in 1948. Place names, personal names, and company or brand names are now allowed. „They thought it was a good time like any other,“ says Williams, whose not-so-independent federation organizes the annual tournaments. „Jew“ as a verb, he says, has received by far the most complaints over the years, but there are others. „People who write about the Christian right tend to care more about swearing. They write and say they played with their child, and the child searched for a word in the dictionary and saw a word that the household claims never to use. Of course, it is also a danger with a real dictionary or simply with a person who lives in a society. More than 200 words from the dictionary were removed from the Scrabble dictionary last year. Each letter thumbnail has a point value between one and 10, depending on the frequency of the standard English letter. Mattel will continue to sell a version of Scrabble with the original rules. British player David Webb said the changes were made to placate the demands of the „white middle class“.
Scratch a battle of political correctness over a book or author, and you`ll often find a struggle that has less to do with abstract principles than with personal stories, emotions, the special affection of the fighters, or experiences with the books or even phrases attacked. I suspected that, but you can`t quite figure it out until the critics come to your own game, whose strange charm, at least to me, is the way it lets words take their meaning out and float in your head without them, reduced to strange amalgams of letters that have value only as high or low scores. If you play too much Scrabble, you can mentally catalog every word you hear that contains an „x,“ sometimes for months. After a particularly engaging game, it is not uncommon for all parties to spend the next few hours searching in each other`s conversation for seven-letter words, which, if established, receive a bonus of 50 points. On Memorial Day weekend, after a particularly bad fall on the board, followed by a visit to a museum wearing Civil War costumes, I became obsessed with the word „Zouave“ (it contains not only the „z“ and „v,“ but four of the five vowels). Just for the kicks, I asked Williams that word, and at first he thought it was „foreign,“ that is, unacceptable. But the official Scrabble dictionary has indicated it as acceptable, with the definition „a French infantryman“. „Being offended is so subjective, it`s ridiculous,“ Williams says, „but we try to take an academic approach. Anything that has an offensive primary definition is excluded. “ will most likely remain because „its primary meaning is not called offensive in the dictionaries from which we draw.
Groups that are offended should persecute them, not us. „Homo,“ he says, will remain (its primary meaning is listed as „man,“ although some purists consider Latin, hence a sense of alienation). „Lezzie“ came out – as useful as that may be for someone holding a „z“ and a space – as well as a bunch of words that can`t even be printed in this newspaper. But when a colleague asked Williams about the British word „tup,“ which sounds vaguely colorful, Williams said he passed the model. „It turns out,“ he explains, „that the primary meaning has to do with what an Aries and a sheep do when they are madly in love.“ It`s not clear what to make of all this. But somewhere there is a 50-point bonus for the forces of linguistic righteousness or the forces of madness. The vice president of the New Zealand Scrabble Players` Association said the rule change was not valid and was a ruse by Mattel for the new version of Scrabble it is promoting.