One of the arbitrary ambitions I’ve set myself this year is to have a go at getting a new word into the dictionary.
It’s quite a hard thing to do. Last quarter 500 new words were added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The list included ‘heaty’, ‘YouTuber’, ‘glam-ma’ and ‘wobbleboard’. ‘Stratocaster’ is also on the list, weirdly.
According to Merriam Webster, getting added is all about the number of references to the word in authoritative contexts – newspaper reports, media references, etc. Lots of words come, eventually, from slang, which is how it has always been (look at Shakespeare and Chaucer), although it feels like the shift from slang to wider acceptance is much faster these days, probably because of Twitter. If something catches on, it catches fast. Words are now like salmon, their scales flashing in the digital stream.
I’ve also decided that my attempt at a word has to have some sort of built-in trick, something that solves something or has a Catch-22 at its heart.
The other day I was playing Scrabble. Suddenly my new word was staring me in the face.
It’s an exclamation. It means “the jaded and barely audible scream that we emit when we pick seven terrible letters out of the bag in a game of Scrabble, put them down on the rack and stare into the competitive abyss”.
I thought also about the word TTTTCHT (my next selection after changing all of my letters). This, I define, as the sound that people make with their tongue on the back of their teeth when they’re taking too long in deciding where to go when it’s their turn at Scrabble.
I prefer AAOOOIE.
Now you might be thinking that this is all a bit of a cheat, making up a word like this. But when you think about playing Scrabble and all of those two letter words like QI and JO and AE, perhaps it doesn’t feel so bad.
I mean, (a) how often do we use them in real life and (b), do we know what they mean? The other thing that make this feel OK to me is the shock revelation that in Scrabble tournaments you don’t even have to know what words mean.
Checking the forums on the web it’s clear that the players on the professional circuit fess up to only knowing the definitions of around 20ish percent of the words they play. You can effectively learn the dictionary and just play the tiles. If there’s a challenge, the only proof point required is that it’s in the dictionary. The current French Scrabble champion, for instance, doesn’t speak French.
OK, so now I had my word. It also has the trick at its heart, i.e., that the validation of the word almost makes it redundant. At the same time, the inner conceit doesn’t render it entirely useless because it acts as an ‘everyword’, representative of the problem but at the same time not solving all manifestations of the problem. So the word taunts the arbiters to reject it, but at the same time there’s an annoyingly plausible and pedantic case for its inclusion. How satisfying.
I checked the maths and there are 24,029 acceptable seven-letter words in Scrabble and a 12.9% chance, remarkably, that you’ll pull a seven-letter word, or the necessary components, from the bag. It would be nice to create the 24,030th word.
But how to do it.
My first step was this: I’ve got a few words into the Urban Dictionary before. Grankini is one of mine (a long and perfectly reasonable story). Of course this isn’t official validation, but maybe it’s a useful step. The goal remains to get it in a proper dictionary and therefore a valid Scrabble move.
I decided to try getting the word accepted by Urbandictionary.com. I submitted the word, which is then put up for ‘peer review’. They promise to email me soon with the outcome. I’ll keep you posted…..
In the meantime, please spread the word. The more it is shared, the more likely it is to get in the dictionary.