When I have a little time on my hands, I play Scrabble. I do not play in real life, because my insistence on the status of words like taeniae, st, and yin makes me unpleasant to normal people.
Instead I am part of a little online community where such a deformed vocabulary is not so bad. It’s a bit like a leper colony, or any small group that has its own jargon.
And perhaps playing on-line Scrabble is not unlike having been in prison.
Not that incarceration develops your spatial and language skills; nor that online wordplay makes you fearsome and encourages amateur tattooing. No.
Just that it’s hard to admit to. Mentioning an account at the Internet Scrabble Club creates an awkwardness. I imagine it is not unlike admitting society considers you a threat. In the silence that follows, one’s interlocutors often try to say something positive. Rarely does anyone say – that’s because you’re a loser. Instead, they draw on some Scrabble experience of their own. I have an unfortunate tendency to scoff at them, and the next day, I find my Facebook friend count has gone down again.
So I log back in to www.isc.ro (hosted in Romania!) and get stuck into playing the many pensioners, Indians, Africans and Malaysians that seem to dominate the international scrabble arena.
I have no idea what taeniae, st and yin mean. Learning the meanings of the words uses time that could be devoted to learning a new word. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that the people who are best at Scrabble tend not to be the well-read and well-schooled playing obscure words out of Chaucer. Instead they tend to be IT and particle physics types who apply optimisation on each turn.
And, even more disappointingly, good players often can’t really speak English. I can’t tell you how disappointing it is to be outplayed by someone who can’t conjugate the verbs they’re using to trash-talk you.
I take deep breaths. As frustrating as it is, internet Scrabble helps keep the passions in check. The Internet Scrabble Club has no audio channel to transmit swearing down the line, and I’ve got more reasons not to throw my laptop across the room than to not upset the board and make an explosion out of the tiles.
Because, as the frustration of my scrabbling attests, I’m not that good. Despite the countless hours, I still get beaten often and my scrabble rating (currently 1172) hasn’t improved in over a year. As serious as I am, and as laughable as my scrabble-induced foul moods are, there’s always some goose out there who takes it more seriously, as we can see here !