Scrabble is simply a game, a source of friendly, family fun. Right? Not entirely. If you have a writer in the family don’t be disarmed by the serene smile and placid wine sipping: writers play in deadly earnest. Our reputations depend on winning; we are wordsmiths after all – the professionals. But, as in real life, chance plays havoc with talent.
When you plunge expectant fingers into the bag, homing in on new letters – attempting a little surreptitious Braille reading – fate may favour your nincompoop nephew or, worse, your supercilious spouse. Those with limited vocabularies may provoke irritation with “there’s-no-such-word” challenges as you don your modesty-mask while placing ‘ziggurat’ on a triple-word square. ‘Squabble’ might be a more appropriate name.
How to deal with this? I suggest you start by changing the rules. Only wimps play within the safety constraints of Scrabble Bibles and dictionaries – I browsed my 1946 edition of Roget’s International Thesaurus to bring you words to flabbergast and befuddle your opponents and at the same time, retrieve some expressive and beautiful words from obscurity. Words never die, they only wait.
A: autarchy (n.) absolute rule – your best procedure for resolving disputes around the Scrabble board. If you have a ‘K’ and can place it on a triple-letter box, try ‘autarky’. From a different root, it means self-sufficient, independent i.e. a full glass and a loaded plate of mince pies at your elbow.
B: biduous (adj.) existing in dual form, twofold or indeed, two-faced – the demeanour of a devious player (note also the multiple form – ‘brexit’). Not even the online etymology owns to ‘biduous’, but it’s in Roget’s, my conscious is clear, pure as…baryta (a white pigment).
C: cuneus (adj.) shaped as a wedge, the thin end of which you should embed early on in any Scrabble contest (see ‘autarchy’ above). And ‘cantharis’ (n) – an energising potion made from powdered blister-beetle, and the perfect condiment for your Scrabble snack.
D: dacker (v.) Scottish, to vacillate, dither – as in the strategy of inducing fatigue in the opposition by spending ten minutes grumbling over your letters while sucking your teeth and sighing.
E: ecphonesis (n.) outcry, hullabaloo and vociferation likely to follow my recommended approach to Scrabble, but be resolute, apply the writer’s canon: patience and perseverance, ‘never give up’.
F: fribble (n.) fribbling (adj.) a trifle, trivial – i.e. the way to brush-off objections from your adversaries. The noun also means a ‘fop’ – a handy bit of name-calling in the face of persistent insubordination.
G: gammoner (n.) a con man, bamboozler, flimflammer, and a role you may need to play on occasion to establish your author-ity.
H: hawsehole (n.) mariner’s term from the days of sailing ships, familiar perhaps only to Joseph Conrad devotees. Apart from the basic score of 18 and potential to reach a double- or treble-word square, the aural ambiguity of ‘hawsehole’ after a few drinks has promise in verbal combat. But it is best to avoid this level of hostility rather than descend into higgledy-piggledy, better to haggle for a trade-off in the interests of completing the game (or preserving your marriage).
I: izzard (n. slang) the end, finale or dénouement. Hang on to a blank tile for your second ‘z’ and save this one for your last word, on a triple-word space.
J: jobbernowl (n) a fool, chump, sop (and 200 others of that ilk) – another convenient insult, allowing time for switching a couple of letters from the bag while the recipient puzzles it out. As an alternative, you can apply jawsmith (US. slang) to the player who is slowing down the game with tedious tales about the inimitable behaviour of her cat.
K: kilderkin (n) a container similar to a cask or barrel with an approximate volume of 18 gallons – filled with wine, this is guaranteed to enliven the evening, but could lead to a great deal of kittling (Scot. tickling) and other such fiddle-faddle which might put the kibosh on the game altogether.
L: lambent (adj.) a brilliant yet gentle quality in light that illuminates rather than burns – the soft radiance of your eyes as you place your last tile with a winning score and they concede that you are a veritable lamia (sorceress) of words.
M: maculose (adj.) discoloured, blotchy – the murky state of your Scrabble board and tiles by the end of the holidays from wine spills and chocolaty smudges.
I hope you enjoyed this post and are not, like spell-checker, irretrievably traumatised by the experience. If you want to go on to Cheat Sheet 2 for N – Z, it is here
If you love words, it’s a good bet that you love books, too. If so, there is ‘a book-lover’s book’ written and produced especially with you in mind: A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity. You can read about it here.
In the meantime, if you’d like any tips on planning, researching, writing, editing, publishing and marketing a creative non-fiction book, take a look at Writing Your Nonfiction Book: the complete guide to becoming an author. Or, as an Amazon reviewer said: “Don’t write before you read this.”