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Scrabble Trauma

 

I am terrible at Scrabble. I had a traumatic experience playing Scrabble once when I was a teenager, with the nanny of the kids I used to babysit for. English was her second or third language, so when the mom came home and looked at the Scrabble board and laughed at her nanny’s terrible spelling, I had to tell her, no, that word was mine. It was humiliating, but, really, it’s not my fault Scrabble doesn’t come with spell check.

People assume that writers are all great spellers, and grammar geeks, and can recite Shakespeare from memory, and none of those descriptions fit me. I never won a spelling bee in my life, I rely on spell check for everything, and I only lasted two semesters as an English major before my head felt like it was going to explode from boredom. I only like using big words when they capture something I couldn’t express in any other way, otherwise I prefer basic vocabulary. I am unlikely to wax rhapsodic about a vermillion sunset, for example.

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“Me neither.”

The idea of playing Scrabble, even now, makes me nauseous and sweaty. One of my best friends in high school was a demon at diagramming sentences. She loved the math of it. She also did well at spelling bees and vocabulary tests, but she hated writing essays. I could write essays and stories and poems ad infinitum, but my spelling was atrocious and the parts of speech still elude me.

My Mom plays Words with Friends on her computer. She has an ongoing game with my brother, and another with a good friend of hers, and she can stare at the screen for hours trying to come up with the perfect words, enjoying every minute. I would punch the computer screen within two minutes if I tried to play, so I don’t.

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“Grandma has been stolen by the computer.”

I had to look up the rules of Scrabble for this post, because I can never remember them. They seem random to me, even though the point value of each letter is supposedly determined by rigorous statistical determinations of letter usage in Standard English. Vowels get one point and less common letters, like Q and Z, get ten points each, which leads to some very silly word choices, in my opinion. Scrabble takes words, which I normally view as a cornucopia of opportunities for self-expression, and turns them into nonsense.

One thing I did like, in my research, was finding the dictionary definition of the word Scrabble: to scratch frantically. This describes exactly what happens inside of my brain when I try to play the game; it captures my anxiety and panic perfectly. But is that how other people feel when they play the game? Are there people who enjoy frantically scratching at the sides of their brains?

I think Cricket and I are on the same page when it comes to Scrabble, or Words with Friends. Though Cricket’s anger has more to do with the fact that Grandma is staring at her computer instead of doing what she is supposed to do: scratching Cricket, frantically or otherwise.

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“Much better.”

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

100 responses »

  1. A friend once gave me the computer game, “bookworm” where you get points for spelling words from the letter board. I quickly learned if you aren’t quick (I wasn’t) the lower letters burst into flames.

    I didn’t last very long.

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  2. I love Scrabble. I couldn’t quote the rules to anyone, I find THOSE mystifying and stupid and they get in the way of a good game. My own ‘rules’ include “NEVER put a three letter word like “cat” at the beginning of the game. Your ‘friends and/or family’ might just kill you.” “Don’t stare at the board so long trying to get a word that combines J and Q (for example) that people have graduated or moved to other countries or states to avoid meeting up with you EVER again”. “Don’t take the darn game too seriously”. That last one is mandatory IMHO, because I’ve played with people who take every point and rule and have to constantly check the dictionary to make sure someone else didn’t slip in a word that ‘isn’t allowed.” I think my own love of the game is because it is made up of words and I love words. I’m also one of those annoying people who can spell and knows grammar and proper usage of words and abbreviations. I couldn’t dissect a sentence for sour beans though. I try really hard not to act superior and rub someone’s nose in the fact that they don’t know “there” from “they’re” or something. And writing? It is made up of more than rules. There’s no heart if one sticks strictly to every parsed line or comma. You have to have SOUL to write, and my dear, you do. You might be heartened to know that I can rarely find anyone to play Scrabble (the board version) any longer. Computers apparently have ruined that simple pleasure too…

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  3. I read this and realized that I am like your friend: I loved diagraming sentences, always won spelling bees, I love doing the daily word jumble but essays…..no, just no. Scrabble can be so cutthroat; I just play for fun. Seriously, let’s not keep score, OK. The Cricket photos this week are adorable.

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  4. How do other people feel when they play the game, you ask? Oh, Rachel, if you only knew. There is an entire Scrabble subculture out there, people who love Scrabble with a special passion and will travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to play with other like-minded individuals. I have been among their ranks for the past ten years or so, although I do try to keep things as balanced as possible rather than devoting my entire life to Scrabble (some do). I highly recommend the book Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis if you’re interested in the fascinating world of Scrabble tournament culture. Also, there have been a couple of movies made about this subject, “Word Wars” and “Scrabylon” (check your public library).

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  5. I love writing and words, and my spelling and grammar are pretty good, but Scrabble is one of the most boring games in the world – at least to me. I’ve played the game with some ridiculously competitive people. I mean, it’s Scrabble for goodness sake! Lol. I don’t blame you a bit for dreading it.

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  6. I’m good at scrabble, but I’m always looking for cool words. My husband sneaks up and gets 80 points for OX. So unfair. I’m also not a good speller, and I use Grammarly.com to be sure my punctuation is good for my blog. Just to be sure (cough). So I can relate.

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  7. I still can’t figure out why the blank tiles have no value.

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  8. If it makes you feel any better, I just lost a Scrabble game to my 14-year old.

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  9. I LOVE Scrabble, but I always figure I should win, since I’m a writer, and that doesn’t always happen. So sometimes it intimidates me. My husband and I play an online game together, and for copyright reasons or some such thing, the game is called Jamble to make it different–AND it refuses to accept some of the words that Scrabble accepts–like Qi. Love your ramblings!

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  10. I sympathise. Scrabble isn’t my thing either, but I did love diagramming sentences. Not that I can remember how these days.

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  11. Jennifer Barraclough

    I spend far too much time playing WordsWithFriends – even though I often disagree with the rules about which words they allow or disallow – and even though my husband is a better player and usually wins. Yesterday, though, I beat him 523 to 366 which I think shows how much luck comes into this game.

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  12. You would have loved playing with my friends. Games were always for fun and laughing and not for making someone feel bad. Have you ever studied linguistics? When you see the history of a language and how the rules of spelling and grammar change and will change over the years, it is hard to take one set of rules very seriously. Just laugh at anyone who is picky. Soon everything they have memorized will be wrong.

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  13. I have played Scrabble for nineteen years, since my mother (who played opposite me) passed away, but I can honestly say I enjoyed it very much. It was such a challenge!

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  14. I am useless at all board games. The very thought of them makes my brain melt. But I feel like I’m providing a good service whenever I am coerced into a game, since the other person always wins and feels good about themselves!

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  15. I love spelling! I love Scrabble! most of my friends won’t log in often enough for me to trounce them at words with friends…so I don’t offer in the interest of keeping friends. I can also write essays with the best of them, and should do more editing before I publish…However, I hated sentence diagramming…and it took me hours of substitute teaching eighth grade english(which I, GASP!, enjoyed), to figure out what the heck a dangling modifier was. (It also took reading e.e. cummings to figure out how and why I did run-on sentences–go ahead, look for them). We all have our issues with english. I just happen to enjoy mine, or try to find a way to work with it, (especially if response poetry is involved–I can’t say it was my best work, but it may have been a favorite to write!). Write on, enjoy your essays, and thank the god(s) you pray to for spell check; it helps us all out of sticky situation…even if we are honorary scrabble champions;-).

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    • I remember using famous writers in my arguments against English teachers who refused to accept my unique use of the language. They were not amused.

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      • They hate it when you proved them wrong…I used _The Secret Life of Bees_ to disprove a setting of a book in my literary analysis class. All I have to say was thank goodness for extra credit;-). However, my poetry instructor was usually amused with my response poetry (especially for the run-on sentence). I need to re-find that poem and keep sharing it.

  16. I love the idea of Scrabble! Having not played since a child , I bought a game from a charity shop and took it on holiday. Thought it would be a fun game to play with my other half. All it did was cause sulking and arguments. Never again! Well, not for a while anyway. 🙂 x

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  17. I play Lexulous on line now. When Mattel took over Scrabble they wiped out history and friendships overnight. I went off in a huff.

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  18. I’m ok at Scrabble. and I love Bananagrams- but Words with Friends was an exercise in futility for me and I gave it up!

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  19. I love Scrabble, and Upwards. As kids we had Lexicon and Kan U Go card games.
    When I was in my last year of grammar school, I helped out in the local Cheshire Home three evenings a week and played scrabble with one of the residents. She was paralysed from the neck down, with slight movement in her left shoulder, sufficient to operate a specially adapted arm on her wheelchair. She was totally amazing, her word power awesome and her sense of humour an absolute riot.

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  20. Just this morning, I was reading in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, that being a bad speller is a very common block for potential writers. I think it’s one of those things, like being able to un-jumble words quickly, roll your tongue, or do cartwheels, that some people have and some people don’t. So yay for spell-check, and for finding our own wonderful gifts and talents!!!

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  21. I love grammar, English and writing; however typing things correctly, especially on a virtual keyboard and while in the throes of a real creative run, is a big challenge for me. You will easily find typos in my posts until hubby, the Editor, tells me about them and I redo. I am lazy about spell check or even re reading my comments for errors before hitting ‘send’. Drives me nuts. Wow. I think I typed this entire comment without an error. Shows what the brain can do when nudged. Lol

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  22. What exactly was the point of diagramming sentences? Never…not once…..in my adult life has anyone ever asked me to diagram a sentence.

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  23. I was one of those obsessive nerdy spelling wizards, but hopeless at Scrabble. It took months of getting repeatedly, soundly beaten at WWF before it really dawned on me that Scrabble was a game of mental arithmetic and strategy, not a game of words. Mental arithmetic improved somewhat with practice but strategy never did. Never won a game of chess, either.

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  24. My entire family plays scrabble, and they are all VERY competitive. I was hanging on until introduced to “Scrabble words.” That was it for me.

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  25. Me too! Phew, I am not alone! A professional writer for 40 years and NOT a good speller or Scrabble player. (Okay with grammar.) My mother, a legal secretary had an eagle eye for spelling mistakes, would review my school papers for me — and she was doing the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle every day in ink up until she died at 89. Perhaps what we lack in detailed rules we make up for in imagination. We may not know how to spell words correctly, but we know how to use them! I prefer simple language too. Your essays are wonderful.

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  26. I always find myself wanting to make a nice pattern on the board so that it spreads out to all corners. Unfortunately this gives my opponent lots of opportunities to grab the triple letter scores.

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  27. I’m w/ Cricket. I love language but, for some reason, have never enjoyed Scrabble.

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  28. Haven’t played scrabble in many a year. It doesn’t excite me at all. My poison is crossword puzzles. I do at least a couple a dat. Did the Sunday NY Times in about 30 minutes today with no help.

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  29. My husband and I love to play word games, and actually bought a game table as our kitchen table. We play perquacky and boggle every night that we have time. (Scrabble is too slow-paced for me.) The difference is we are kind to each other, complimenting a good play and allowing dictionary look-ups, making jokes at words, not at each other. It’s a great way for us to pass an hour or two before bed.

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  30. I’m terrible at Scrabble, and never voluntarily play it if I can help it =) Crossword puzzles are much better and more interesting!

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  31. You looked up the word Scrabble? I would never have thought it was an actual word, just the name of the game. Thanks, I just learned something new!

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  32. No, I am with you on this. I do not play scarbble. Annabell tried to get me interested but it was not for me. Risk I understand and played with Annabell and friends, but not Scrabble. I don’t mind crosswords and I like jigsaws, both of which are relaxing — Scrabble is not..

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  33. Even though my spelling is quite good, Scrabble always frustrates me. Those who are good at it learn those ‘impossible’ short words that are only ever used in that game, and the smugness of the winners is uncomfortable to behold.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  34. Well I don’t like scrabble , especially when you are playing with a very good player. Rather scratch Cricket x

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  35. I don’t like scrabble either and I am also a bad speller.

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  36. Thanks for always “liking” my posts even though you probably don’t!

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  37. I am with you on Scrabble! My mum and aunt on the other hand ‘loved’ it. During a particularly tense game – competition wasn’t in it! – where my mother was losing, when my aunt nipped out for the toilet she returned to find all her letters scattered to the four winds and a very rude expression spelled out on the board. It still makes me laugh to remember it.
    While I am in confessional mood I am rubbish at cross-words too.
    Love your posts
    Mxxx

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  38. I teach high school English…and I really hate Shakespeare. Teehee!

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  39. Rachel, this reminds me of the term ‘hardscrabble’: providing or yielding meagerly in return for much effort… (Dictionary.com)

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  40. I am with you 100% on Scrabble, I feel exactly the same and am in agreement with Cricket. The comments on this post are a hoot! I love all the different ways people see their talents or lack of talent in writing, grammer, spelling, and Scrabble.

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  41. Great post!! Your dog is sooooo adorable!!

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  42. Crickets being scratched face. 💗 I too can’t spell. Why doesn’t real life have red wriggly lines?

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  43. I think you would enjoy playing Scrabble with my father-in-law. There is something amusing and doggone irritating at the same time, when he uses a small word to obtain 30 points! Occasionally I try to find an obscure word with 7 consonants and one vowel, but “cat” usually is the best I muster.

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  44. LOL, I’m like you – not great at scrabble. LOVE words, I was a creative writing minor but also hated the ‘structure’ of writing, grammar, etc. as it relates to general journal writing and/or blogging.
    And like you and Cricket, have the ‘brain scratches’ to show it. 🙂

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  45. I love Scrabble and Words with Friends, too…so tell your mom to friend me!

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  46. I am not a good speller. Even when I DO spell the word correctly, I think I don’t so I end up looking it up . When I text I have my other device (if I am on my phone I use my iPad or vice versa) to look up how to spell the words. I don’t type in that text speak.

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  47. Thanks for the smiles! And what a lovely picture of Cricket at the end…a very contented Cricket.

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  48. Cricket is a cutie! The new rescue member of our family is “Rags” he went from a street dog to a happy “Rags to Riches” puppy. About two years old, he is the king of our jungle, and we enjoy watching him socialize with other fur babies during agility weekly classes.

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  49. Cricket! She is just too cute. Perfect scrabble buddy!

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