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Scrambled Scrabble and Hot Dogs


Last week, we discussed “jabronies,” “winklehawks,” “motherwit,” “purfling,” and a handy new way to say “not my problem.” We also pondered why people call their biceps “guns,” and tackled a quiz about palindromes.


Several of you sent us your “family rules” for Scrabble, those idiosyncratic tweaks that make the game more fun.

Chris from Seattle called to say, “Every now and then we allow the phonetics spelling of words, and it is hilarious! Everybody has a great time.”

Sheilani Romero and Pat Bryan from San Diego suggest “themed” Scrabble. On Earth Day, for example, they decided that every word played must fit the theme of “green.”

Steve Smith writes that his family uses “Annabel’s Rule,” named for a longtime guest of a Massachusetts inn where they used to vacation.

“In the evenings, guests would gather in the dimly-lit parlor and play games on the two old card tables. Annabel, a white-haired New Englander, reigned over the Scrabble table.

“Her rule, and one which we have adopted in our house, is that a blank which has been played and designated with a letter can be picked up by any player on their next turn and replaced with that letter. Since there are two blanks among the tiles, these keep the blanks moving and changing throughout the game.”

Fred McMullen of Carlsbad, Calif., says in his house, they play a sexy version of Scrabble, in which every word must have a racy connotation. “Sometimes the other players have to think really hard to figure it out, and then they go, ‘OHHH!'”

Speaking of Scrabble, there’s been another dust-up over changes to “the” Scrabble dictionary. Stefan Fatsis says it’s more complicated than you might think:


Why do we call that baseball-park staple a “hot dog,” anyway? Ben Zimmer has uncovered some brand-new clues about the term’s origin.

It’s a great example of how the rise of digitized books and newspapers is changing the way etymologists work.


If you just can’t read enough about language, linguist Arnold Zwicky has just compiled a humongous list of web resources for you:


BEHIND THE SCENES: A big welcome to our new listeners on WQCS 88.9 FM in Fort Pierce, Florida! If you have friends or family there, please invite them to listen to us there Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Please keep those e-cards and letters coming. We savor your observations and questions about language. And you never know–they just might end up on the air!

Ciao for now,

Martha and Grant

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