I have a confession to make. Yes, I love games (card games, video games, board games, word puzzles), but for some reason I could never get into playing Scrabble. Boggle? One of my favorites. Word searches? Give me a pen (not a pencil); I’m ready. But Scrabble? Eh. I know, I know. It’s a requirement for all English Majors to love Scrabble. Don’t ask me how I ever got my Bachelor’s.
But a funny thing happened last year. I started playing Words With Friends on my Droid. Yeah it was Scrabble, but I got to play it on my phone, wherever and whenever I wanted. It was kind of fun. Then I watched my wife play real Scrabble with her family one day and it was actually kind of neat. Call me materialistic, but it was one of the newer, fancier boards that rotated and had small indentations so the tiles wouldn’t slide all over the place. Suddenly, I wanted to play. Next thing you know, I bought my wife a copy of the Silver Edition for the holidays and the two of us have been playing ever since. It also got us both way more into playing Words With (Lots of) Friends. At any given moment, we’re each in the middle of 6 or 7 different WWF games.
If you’re new to Words With Friends, you’re still innocent. But you’ll quickly fall into the same trap that everyone else does: Scoring big points with words that you’ve never heard of before. QI. QAT. XI. No, this isn’t some new Greek Fraternity, they’re legitimate words you can use in a game. What do they mean? To be honest, I have no clue, except I think a QAT is a type of bush. Yeah, I looked it up one time.
Whenever my wife and I play Scrabble, we play with very loose rules. We’re allowed to look words up in the dictionary (the Official Scrabble one, of course) BEFORE putting our tiles down. The one rule we have, though, is that you have to say what the definition is. That way, in theory, we’re supposedly learning some new words. And we do. We learn plenty. But unfortunately, two turns later, we’ve already forgotten what AE means, and we’re on to the next word.
When I play Words With Friends, however, there’s no reason to look up any words. Just type in any random combo and if it’s a legitimate word, it’ll go through. With no reason to look up words, you simply start memorizing letter combinations. Not words. Letter combinations. Words have meaning. Letter combinations have points.
So how does all of this tie into writing? Well, it got me thinking about language in general. Learning new words (whether from Scrabble or a fun “Word a Day” desk calendar) is great. But if you don’t constantly use that word in regular conversation, you’ll soon forget its meaning. Now, I don’t expect weathermen to start talking about it raining “Qats and Dogs” anytime soon. And I can’t see gamers only using “legit” words. After all, it’s not called “Words I Know.” But should writers take it upon themselves to educate their readers on obscure words? Is it our responsibility to raise the bar on society’s language level?
No, I don’t think it’s a writer’s responsibility to make sure readers know every single word in the dictionary. That’s obviously a bit much. But I do think it’s a good idea, no matter the industry, to constantly be teaching and learning. I want to use new words every day (and not just so I can beat my friends in a game). It just helps round out your vocabulary both for regular discussion, as well as for improving your writing. Keeping things fresh is the best thing a writer can do. And while there are plenty of ways to do this (change up your voice, try a new topic, etc.), increasing and improving your vocabulary is probably the easiest. So I welcome new word and challenge you to bump up your vocabulary. Go right ahead and keep playing your word game apps and proudly shuffling your tiles to spell XEBEC or ZEK. Just don’t come crying to me when I 100% call you out on it.