Ifs, Ands or Butts

Words can be tricky. Did you think I misspelled buts in the title? I didn’t, though my spell-check just told me I mispelled misspelled. The two-t Butts refers to Alfred Butts, the inventor of Scrabble. His birthday is this week.

Scrabble is a classic word game. I enjoy playing it. But it does tend to require a somewhat extensive knowledge of rare words. For instance, do you know what opening play will score the highest? Muzjiks, 128 points. What? You didn’t know that referred to Russian peasants? Oh, you only knew the alternative spelling of moujiks. I see. Or maybe you thought that’s how you say music when you’re missing your front teeth.

But, back to Mr. Butts. (How did he survive the playground years?) The best thing about his game is that it puts the English language under a spotlight.

Have you ever enjoyed the sound of a word or phrase? In the torrent of words we use every day, it’s easy to not notice the little gems, the words that come as easy on the tongue as a somersault on warm grass. My daughter, Grace, and I found one recently. In the course of reading books together one morning, we came across the same phrase in two books. Lickety-split. Now, that is tailor made for a human mouth. It’s just fun to say. Even five times fast.

It’s even more fun to invent words. Grace coined one when she was just old enough to talk: cobbersheek. Not only is it hard to spell, it’s hard to define. No matter. It has a delightful sound – crispy on the outside, soft in the middle.

To celebrate Mr. Butts’ birthday, I’ve invented my own game using Scrabble tiles. I call it Scrubwords. You can play it just to make up odd-sounding words, or you can play it more competitively. Either way, it should be good fun for a family game night. A night to enjoy words.

I hadn’t meant to use words so many times in this article. But apparently, there’s no other words for words.

Tricky things, aren’t they?

Bruce Van Patter

Image: moujiks.jpg
Link: www.brucevanpatter.com/scrubwords.html

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter