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OMG! Scrabble To Add New Words To Its Dictionary

Scrabble board (We Are CS/Flickr)
Scrabble board (We Are CS/Flickr)

Every year the world’s major dictionaries unveil their new offerings, adding words that reflect new trends, technologies and fads. But Scrabble has long been a bastion of tradition.

Scrabble dictionaries are updated only every five to 10 years, and words vying for a coveted position between “aa” (a pointy rock found in Hawaii) and “zyme” (something that causes zymotic disease), must first go through an exhaustive process. That is, until this week.

Scrabble is launching a Facebook contest to determine which words get into the next edition of the hallowed Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. People simply nominate their words before March 28, and on April 2, Hasbro plans to unveil 16 finalists in a March Madness-style bracket.

So how is the Scrabble world reacting to this breach of Scrabble protocol? Here & Now’s Robin Young checks in with John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association and director of the oldest sanctioned Scrabble club in North America, in Toronto.

Interview Highlights: John Chew

On reaction from the Scrabble community

“My email inbox has been overflowing ever since we put out the announcement. My phone has been ringing off the hook. This is huge news within the Scrabble community, because we’ve never done anything like this before.”

“The competitive players within the North American Scrabblers Association treat it with a proprietary sense. It is their own. It’s tools with which they play their game. And so when I went to the local club last night to play some games against the Canadian champion, I wasn’t sure whether I was gonna get tarred and feathered, or hoist up on everybody’s shoulders and paraded around the library, or what. As it turned out, the one thing all Scrabble players have in common with each other is that they really want to spend all of their time playing Scrabble and nothing else. So I made an announcement, I asked for questions, and there weren’t any. It was just time to play Scrabble.”

On the evolution of language

“Each generation has its own version of language. I’m heavily involved with School Scrabble. I’m going to be helping around the National School Scrabble Championship next month. And when I see kids that are of that age range, grade 4 to 8, who are playing Scrabble, it’s like they’re talking using a different language, and I have to keep telling them, ‘No, LOL is not a word, OMG is not a word.’”

On how the new dictionary highlights those changes

“It brings attention to the way words come into the language, right? Words entering the language, it is a kind of popularity contest, because words — you or I could invent a word, but if nobody else used it, it wouldn’t make it into the dictionary. But enough people use it in enough different contexts, then it’ll make its way into a college dictionary, and then into the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, but this is a 20-year process. This year, for the first time, thanks to Hasbro and Merriam-Webster, we’re accelerating, we’re compressing that process, that one lucky word can make it into the dictionary within a one-month span.”


  • John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association and director of the oldest sanctioned Scrabble club in North America, in Toronto. He tweets @poslfit.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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