Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why Am I a Word Whore?


 Games.

No, really.  Blame my roots, the ones untouched by L’Oreal Excellence 6R.

My paternal grandfather spoke seven languages fluently. He did his crossword puzzles in pen. Dinner chatter always involved a bevy of puns. Most of the time, I stared at him agog, awed by how much stuff he had in his brain. I understood a fraction of what he said and a mote of what he meant.

But then. Oh, but then. Game Time would come.

I reigned as Barricade Beeotch in Parcheesi, morphed into Satan’s Spawn during Uno, and hoarded Happiness while collecting a pittance of Fame and Fortune in Careers.  Each triumph was gleefully celebrated, for it was an unconscionable sin to let someone to win.

There was no glee quite akin to my grandfather’s glee when it came to games of wit and orthography. My Achilles’ heel. No, not wit. Orthography, the damnable art of spelling. No other game embodied my white whale as much as:

Probe.

Sci-fi fans: Commence tittering over metallic devises and certain orifices.
Fantasy fans: Immediately redirect thoughts to building shields of stone around your mind.
Erotica fans: Unlock the toy chest and be so kind as to use the warming lube.

When you’re done, consider, if you will, a seemingly simply game made by Parker Brothers in the 1960s. Each player chooses a word between two and twelve letters. Each letter occupies a segment in a bright orange rack.  A deck of instruction cards determines play. The goals: guess your opponent’s word and own the last word unmasked. Forfeiture came in the misspelling of one’s chosen word.

I was four when the racks attracted my attention. I was seven before I could sit at the game table with the one reasonably long word I knew how to spell. Elephant. I was out in two turns. I had to sit in my chair until the game was over, watching as big obscure words were slowly revealed.

There was only one way to be able to hold my own with the big boys. I had to become a mistress of words and strategy, so I read. Historical fiction, gothics, mysteries, fantasy, romances. If it was a novel, it was my cure for the bane of youth: boredom. My parents were understandably thrilled by the notion of a silent entertainment for their otherwise obstreperous child. Like any criminal mastermind, I studied, I plotted. I absorbed words and their multiple meanings. When the time came, I was prepared to take my seat at the game table.  

Enter my nemesis stage left: the dictionary.

I loathed it with a fiery passion. Exactly what use is a big book of words when you have to know how to spell the word in order to know how to spell the word? ~eye twitch~ Yet, I desired to win the game. So, like any diligent student of the American schools, I memorized vocabulary lists. I passed my “grade-appropriate” spelling tests.

Note: “Passed” not “Aced”

If the purpose of the written word is communication, then meaning holds priority over form. American English spelling wasn’t standardized until the mid 19th century. This is the case I presented to my fellow gamers. I let the vast collections of literature from times preceding the standardization deliver the climax, the irrefutable proof. 

It did not lead to a rule change in Probe.

Nay, I was banished once again from the game table. Oh, I was applauded for knowing the meanings, but I could never win the game if I could not spell.

I would love to give you all a happy ending to my tale. Truly, I do wish I could claim to be a globally honored orthographer.

It’d be one hell of a lie.

My handicap has not diminished my love of word games. A plethora of tantalizing challenges have sprawled over the great game table throughout the years. Players have come and gone. With (their advancing) age and (my nagging) strategy, I have gained concessions from the regular players to at least permit the use of the infernal dictionary during play. 

After all, one must know how to spell the word before one can look it up, right?

Should you, my lovelies, wish to spend a day with this literary courtesan, please be prepared for a dozen rounds of Word Yahtzee or Quiddler. 

Leave the Probe on the spaceship, wizard mound, or dungeon.

16 comments:

  1. I don't think I could encounter a game of Probe without giggling like a schoolkid at its name ;-)

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  2. Got my lube! What did you say after that?

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  3. LMAO. It's Scrabble in our house, when I'm feeling scrappy. But we play filthy Scrabble. You have to play a perverse word, and if it's not obviously perverse, you must use it in a perverted way in a sentence.

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  4. OMG! I have never heard of Probe (dirty :-p), but it sounds freakin' fantastic!

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  5. I'd never heard of probe either but I want one. The game, I mean. Not whatever Jeffe's warming up.

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  6. Not fair. By the time I was ten, no one would play word games with me anymore. So here's what I want in our word-whore parlor: a table with an absinthe fountain and a Scrabble board. The table should be surrounded by comfy arm chairs. Maybe the house should work up a discount structure for customers who can best their chosen word-whore? ;)

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  7. Tez - Constant sniggering during my pubescent years might have contributed to the banishment. Might. Mebbe. Okay, definitely.

    Jeffe - Some people just can't focus once the lube appears. ~brow waggle~

    Laura - Three cheers for Perverts' Scrabble! I'm in...as long as I can use the Dirty Dictionary; otherwise, "Lubricant" might end up resembling "Lugubrious."

    Danielle - I say we take Laura's suggestion and make it Perverts' Probe. Heck, Vivid Entertainment might even sponsor it. (Hey, money matters, right?)

    Linda - RUN! Jeffe's coming!

    Marcella - If I start drinking from the fountain, stop me before I'm labeled the "easy word whore." (insert hyphens where desired)

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  8. We stopped playing Scrabble in our house when the games became violent. There was cheating, name-calling, and vicious pouting...all from my mom and her brother. We stick to trivia games now, or cards, or we just don't play while the older generation are around.

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  9. I actually sorta suck at Scrabble. I should get extra points for using parsec as a word though. Just sayin'.

    I would totally play Probe. :)

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  10. Hey gals, come back! Don't run...

    I love the concept of the Word Whore parlor!

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  11. Yes, we definitely need a WW parlor! And I'm down with the absinthe fountain. As long as we get the good stuff. Last time I had cheap absinthe, I got a headache.

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  12. If you want absinthe, author Skyler White has some good connections - she had absinthe at her book launch! ;-)

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  13. KAK - this post cracked me up. I went off to work laughing but didn't have time to comment.

    Allison, no worries. I sort of suck at Scrabble too. I will always choose the really cool word over the strategic move, every time.

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  14. Tez, thanks for the tip! I will go look her up on Twitter right now...

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  15. Danica - It is amazing how those little tiles can sting. We used to have a travel version until Dad had to pull the car over. Doh!

    Allison - Ooo, you should totally rock any kind of word game since you know all those scientific terms. My grandfather was a chemist. I fully accept that there is a huge segment of the English language that I will never know (much less know how to spell).

    Laura & Tez - I've the Costco-size bottle of Nyquil. Will that work? ~ducks~

    Kerry - I live for brightening someone's day. I'll remember to have shields hung on the walls of Word Whore parlor, just to protect Scrabble players when Danica, Allison, and you get bored and turn tiles into projectiles. (rimshot)

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  16. obstreperous

    But that's a *great* word for the game, no? Twelve letters of "holy cow, where'd she come up with that one"?

    I learned a lot of vocabulary by context, which meant that pronunciation, rather than spelling, was often the problem. For example, I'd already read about Confucius by the time I encountered him in a sixth grade history course, and so I thought nothing of just saying the name the way I'd sounded it out in my head, much to the tittering of my classmates. (Thank heavens I was one of the good kids, and my teacher didn't think I'd mispronounced it on purpose!)

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