Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Living in a Bilingual World (The One About Scrabble)
I think it's fair to say that you could hear the collective roar of disapproval all the way from Croydon to Enfield and from Hillingdon to Havering as "thang", "Wiki", "grrl", "aloo" and "innit" were unveiled recently as the latest additions to the Collins Scrabble Dictionary. Linguistic mutability rarely causes such commotion. However, beyond the complaints about whether the terms above are mispronunciations or genuine neologisms, the stench of snobbery was so strong that it almost made me pass out when I read the news.
As a relatively newcomer to Scrabble - and irregular player to boot - I can't see what the fuss is about. The game is democracy at work. For starters it's not about how well you know your Thesaurus but how well you take advantage of the premium squares. That's why I, a non-native, can give a person born and bred in the UK a run for his or her money. Secondly, although proper nouns are not allowed, words that have other uses as common nouns are, for instance "John" and "john" (loo).
With this linguistic laxity in place, you would have thought that Scrabblists (did I just make up that word? Can I use it in my next game?) wouldn't think much of terms like "thang, "grrl" and "innit". But no, a fuss has been kicked up. Albeit a quiet one like when someone lets one drop on a crammed lift and all eyes alight politely and silently on the bald, portly, scruffy, short bloke when all the time it was the lady with the Dior dress and the Jimmy Choos who's stunk up the vertical transport. It's not just hoi polloi who fart, you know.
However, I can, up to a certain extent, understand the outcry about "thang" and "grrl". In the case of the former, what's to stop someone from taking this neologism to its next logical conclusion: "thingy". Six letters instead of five; we're talking triple-word squares here. With "grrl", the situation is more complicated. How do we know it's two "Rs" and not three or four? How about if someone like me, who is in the habit of rolling his "Rs" extends the number of letters to seven? That's all my tiles gone in one go.
With "innit", though, there should be space for more leniency. After all, this phrase (derived from "ain't it?") acts as a common denominator, a linguistic peace-keeper that comes to our aid whenever we forget what verb to use at the end of a sentence, as in "he comes everyday, doesn't he?", instead of "is he?", which wouldn't make sense. "Innit" solves that problem. Besides, it's the English response to the French "n'est-ce pas?" and the German "wahr nicht?". "Innit" is a social leveller.
But, obviously, because it's the province of the young and the great unwashed, it should be ignored. Well, I'll tell you what, I'll be using it next time I play Scrabble. Especially if I'm lumped with a "u" and an "x", as I have been in the past, much too often. After all, how many chances do you ever get to accommodate the word "uxorious" across the board?
Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 19th June at 10am (GMT)