With new word additions, has Scrabble just jumped the shark?

I saw this recent story about Scrabble featured on the NPR website and honestly, found it quite horrifying. In essence, the maintainers of the official Scrabble word list have added quite a few words that, well, certainly aren’t what I’d call real words.

The most egregious examples include “lolz” (you’re kidding, right?), “lotsa”, “newb”, “obvs”, “pwn” (this is actually a misspelling of an existing word, “own”, not a word of its own), “wuz” (oh come on), “cazh”, “cinq” (I thought there was a rule against foreign words?), “wojus” (another foreign word), “zeda” (supposedly, this means “grandfather” somewhere, but not in the English I was taught), “ridic” (Scrabble isn’t text messaging, people), and “shizzle”. Somewhat more reasonable are a few additions like “podiumed”, “devo”, “geocache”, “hashtag”, “showrooming”, and “checkbox”. I can even see the logic behind “cakehole” making the list. But this doesn’t offset in the least the number of non-word turds that will now be tournament-legal Scrabble plays.

Look, I hate drawing letters like Q, X, or Z in a game of Scrabble as much as almost anyone else who hasn’t memorized the list of words with those letters in them. It’s one thing to put some of these words in a real dictionary, but another entirely to call them legal Scrabble plays. To me, Scrabble has always been about real English, not idiot babble, half-assed abbreviations, and obviously foreign words. Allowing “lolz”, “wuz”, and “ridic” is just the first few feet on a very slippery slope. (At least some of the time, retribution is possible given the right hand: adding “ulous” to the end of “ridic” and hitting a triple word score in the process would certainly be an appropriate response on someone who dared play it.)

There is still a small chance that WESPA (the World English Scrabble Players Association) and/or NASPA (the North American Scrabble Players Association) will veto some of the new words this coming September. I’m not holding my breath, but it is technically possible.

Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful” Super Bowl ad

I know I have a backlog of about a dozen posts I’ve been meaning to write, but on this one I feel the need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s about this 60-second television commercial aired during the Super Bowl. In case you haven’t seen it:

Now, I know it’s primarily a right-wing crowd that’s ticked off about this commercial. I’m mostly left-wing but lean right on a few issues. It’s a no-brainer that we as a country benefit when everyone knows at least one common language. Now, the question then becomes what language should that be?

The Declaration of Independence was written in English. The Constitution was written in English. All of our laws are written in English. Our road signs are written in English. The majority of our broadcast media are in English. If instructions for anything are written in only one language, that language is English. It is technically true that English is not the official language of this country, but it really should be named as such by law.

And this is why I think Coke’s ad fails as a piece of advertising. I am fine with showing different nationalities, different colors of skin, even those of differing sexual preferences. But if we can’t even talk to random people in the same language, how much unity do we really have? I have lost count of the number of times I’ve asked a stranger something like “what time is it?” or “which bus was that that passed by?” and got “sorry no speak English” as my response. So when Coca-Cola shows “America the Beautiful” being sung in different languages, and it is hard to tell if parts of the video were even shot in America (at 0:28 Coke bottles are shown which very well could be the Mexican version not necessarily imported into the US, at 0:35 all the signage is in Chinese and there’s nothing to clearly show that this is actually the US). I hope this isn’t the case, but if in fact any portion of this commercial was actually shot outside of the US, it was inappropriate to use “America the Beautiful.”

I’m not even sure what they are trying to communicate. It’s a video montage with a song whose melody I recognize, but most of which is sung in the language NotEnglish. (I say it this way not to offend, but in the same way that John Polstra used the term “the programming language NotC” to refer to a different and less-known computer programming language.) About the only things I can recognize are the Coca-Cola logo and some obviously American landmarks like the Grand Canyon. If there’s a message of unity here, I missed it.

The advertising would have been improved by showing the singers on camera–different nationalities, skin colors, sexual preferences, what have you–singing “America The Beautiful” in English and only in English. The video as aired could remain the main video shown on screen, with the singers in an inset, or the video as aired could be replaced with the singers entirely. Now the commercial becomes a more obvious promotion of unity behind a common language–and a common soft drink.

I’m disappointed as a Coca-Cola customer that they dropped the ball this badly on such a big stage. I’m not going to boycott Coke, but I’ll definitely be drinking a lot more Dr. Pepper over the next couple of months than I otherwise would have.

Breaking the language barrier, or making it even tougher to overcome?

A recent story on click2houston.com (KPRC-TV) describes an executive order signed by Houston mayor Annise Parker, calling for the “translation of essential public information” into no less than five other languages besides English. While on its face the move seems like an admirable attempt at accessibility, I suspect the actual result will be the exact opposite.

The more things are translated into another language, the less incentive new residents have to learn English. Less incentive means fewer actually do, in turn meaning that trying to patronize a business in some parts of town becomes an exercise in frustration. And thus the problem I run into, where I walk into, say, a restaurant, and have a bunch of Spanish babbled into my face (apparently people think I’m Hispanic-looking enough; I self-identify as white, and I don’t know what I can do to make myself look more white and less Hispanic.

Maybe it’s just me slowly becoming a curmudgeon, but I consider it downright rude to start talking some other language based on such an assumption. It’s either that, or the waiter/waitress really does not know much English. I can’t tell the difference, and honestly I feel like if we have reached the point where it’s acceptable to try Spanish first, then we’re damn close to the point that those that fought for the independence of Texas and for the entirety of the current state of Texas to remain part of the United States did so in vain.

This isn’t a race issue. It’s the same for anyone who speaks a language besides English, which should be the official language of this country, being the language the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the laws, and the road signs are written in. It’s high time that “for English, press 1” and similar over-reaching attempts at accommodation of non-native languages go the way of the rotary dial telephone. The less information is available in other languages, the faster those who don’t know English get the message that they need to learn English to function in the United States. The faster they get the message, the better the result is for all of us.