Mattel, scrabble’s owner, announced the change at the end of 2021, saying it was necessary in light of world events to make the game more culturally relevant. The change followed events such as the death of George Floyd, with resulted in increased usage of racial slurs and the company’s introduction of more inclusive Barbie dolls.
But many of the changes have left players scratching their heads and others in a heated debate over the decision and individual words.
According to Jonathan Maitland of the Spectator many people are quitting the game as a result of the changes. He cites the example of Author Darryl Francis who quit the World English-Language Scrabble Players’ Association in protest. Francis is one of those involved in creating the 1980 words list for the game.
He quit, saying: “Words in dictionaries and Scrabble lists are not slurs. They only become slurs if used with a derogatory purpose or intent or used with a particular tone and context. Words in our Scrabble lists should not be removed for PR purposes disguised as promoting some kind of social betterment.”
The problem is the interpretation of words, this is because words don’t always have the same meaning across the English-speaking world. To make matters worse Mattel has not released a full list of words that have been banned, but rather rejecting the words when used on their official online version.
That has frustrated players, who say the game is not about a selection of words, it is about words that are in the dictionary.
Maitland said: “It’s hard to find anyone in the Scrabble community in favour of the ban.
“That doesn’t mean that we approve of any of the banned words, mind you. Among them are some vile slurs.
“But the words can’t be un-invented: they are part of our sometimes shameful history. And playing them in a private word game is very different to using them in any other context.”
“They only become slurs if used with a derogatory purpose or intent or used with a particular tone and context.
“Words in our Scrabble lists should not be removed for PR purposes disguised as promoting some kind of social betterment.”
But not everyone is taking the change seriously with there always have been issues over the dictionary used and what may or may not be included.
Ebi Sosseh a BAME player from the UK told Maitland: I used to be initially uncomfortable when words like ‘w**’ used to be played against me.
“That subsided very quickly when I rationalised that we were engaged with a game of words.”
Sosseh finished by saying that Scrabble should focus on education rather than censorship and that they should leave the words to the people that produce the dictionaries.
Scrabble’s war of words amongst competitive scrabble players has caused some to leave the game but for most, the change is considered trivial and just another one of those things. Perhaps this is nothing more than a storm in a teacup.
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