The curious incident of the missing letter

Anybody who knows The Special One will be well aware that she has an ill-disguised competitive side. Whether she’s playing a game of charades or just tossing a coin, she hates ending up on the losing side. As a result, she has an incredibly quick learning curve which, for example, has allowed her to win cash in poker games on three of the four occasions I’ve ever played with her. Some people would call it beginner’s luck, but I’d call it an abject refusal to be beaten. And woe betide anybody who gets in her way.

Of course, that means that I enter into any games with her with a certain amount of trepidation. After all, it can be particularly cold if you have to spend the night on the sofa due to an inadvertent victory at Mastermind.

Nonetheless, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to play Scrabble on Saturday night. And it quickly became apparent that Americans are the laziest people on earth. Not because The Special One couldn’t be bothered to pick up her own tiles (and brought in a local schoolkid to do it for her instead), but because they drop letters from any word that they (think they) can get away with.

Clearly, I’m well aware of the American propensity to drop u’s like they’re going out of fashion, and can easily deal with a bit of color, honor or behavior. But from yoghurt to chilli, and fillet to gauge, give an American half an inch and they’ll kick any letter they can out of perfectly spelled words, just to save the 0.12 seconds it would have taken to type or write it.

The problem is particularly acute in the world of medicine and the body, with words such as anaesthetic, foetus, caesarean, calliper and oestrogen all suffering a from a cruelly dumped letter. Although to be fair, most doctors have such bad handwriting that all of these are possibly just clerical/transcription errors of the kind that only get picked up when a patient realiszes that for the last six years they’ve been taking the contraceptive pill to fight excess gas.

In many ways, the American spelling changes make a certain amount of sense. After all, who really needs the extra ‘a’ in anaesthetic? Language should, I guess, be made to fit our needs and ease, rather than being rigidly rule- or tradition-based. Although given this, it seems strange that a nation so obsessed with litigation and legal action would continue to issue anything as peculiar as a subpoena…

When you’re playing Scrabble, of course, a dropped ‘a’, ‘h’ or ‘l’ can mean the difference between a triple word score and a humiliating four pointer. Or worse, allow The Special One to fit ‘feces’ into a tight space, and romp home with 27 points and the game. Damn America and its lackadaisical approach to scatological wordsmithery.

Still, at least I got to sleep in my own bed on Saturday.

15 thoughts on “The curious incident of the missing letter

  1. Mike

    To me, this seeems to be more a case of bad sportsmanship on your behalf. For god’s sakes, England didn’t invent this language. Oh, wait. They did. Nevermind.

  2. Brooklyn

    Have you no understanding of the concept of “House Rules”? I believe that, whatever the rule book says, everyone grew up with different rules for Monopoly.

    Clearly a Brit playing Scrabble in a household of Americans should expect to forego the extra “u”s, etc., and an American in a Brit household should expect to be required to use them.

    Since yours is a mixed household, you could negotiate some compromise, the “e” in anaesthetic is not needed, but the “u”s stay, or, both US and Brit forms can be used, or each must use the spelling of his/her country of birth, etc.

  3. Dylan Post author

    EiNY – The Special One was infuriated by my use of QI and XO. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way towards getting you the cold shoulder, I can tell you.

  4. Lisa

    I like to say that we like to eliminate that which seems blatantly unnecessary.

    This is where “sure” comes in when we are really saying, “Thank you. I’d LOVE a cup of tea, if it’s not too much trouble.”

    And the excessive “u” in “colour”.

    It’s an art, really. 🙂

  5. Paul Sheffrin

    My son and I play a version of Scrabble where the ONLY words you can play are ones that might plausibly exist (ie they sound and look like English) but in fact do not. If one of us plays a word thinking it doesn’t exist but is challenged and recourse to a dictionary proves it does, then the word score reverts to the challenger. I can recommend it as a game that manfully rises above the pettiness of orthology

  6. Expat Mum

    I gave up playing Scrabble here a long time ago as all the long words I used like “erudite” and “practicable” were challenged as being non-existent. I spent more time opening the bloody dictionary than collecting my points!

  7. Alasdair

    Dylan – we don’t use the Official Scrabble Dictionary cuz it has such absurdities as having “li” but not “ri” (or is it the other way round?) … one is a Chinese measure of distance and the other is the Japanese equivalent … instead, we use the Webster’s Third (this is the US, after all) unabridged coffee-table-sized tome …

    Well, we did, until the very competitive friend who plays Scrabble realised that there are a LOT of “chiefly Scots variant” legitimate words in there … (innocent smile) … he had memorised all the “official” 2-letter combos, yet kept getting creamed by simple Scots primary school words like “usufruct” and “syzygy” …

    Oh – and the British version of the US word “fetal” should not have any “o” in it … the US “e” replaces the diphthong “ae” (I can’t get the ASCII code to work for it, here) …

  8. Paul Sheffrin

    Sorry Alasdair, my Official Scrabble Word list does not have faetal, but does have both fetal and foetal. Faetal does appear in Wikipedia as the name of a band (not one that I’ve heard of) so I wonder if you are not alone in your spelling error

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