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Friday, May 02, 2003

Word syndrome


HERE is an interesting e-mail I received a couple of days ago. It is from Vanessa Joan Chan, a Form Five student who I surmise thrives in her wit and in the arts. This is what she has to say about Scrabble and how delightful it can be as a weapon in the war of words: 

“When the garrulous Polonius asks Hamlet what he reads, the angry prince answers ‘Words, words, words’ (Act II, scene 2, line 76-77). Hamlet was no Scrabble player because the game was born only in the 1930s. Nevertheless, his response to the Lord Chamberlain encapsulates what a Scrabbler should be most interested in.  

“Do words give you sleepless nights? Consider this scenario: you enjoy reading and writing is your forte. You have a thing about rearranging any number of alphabets to form words and you don’t stop marvelling at the infinite possibilities of how letters can be permutated. And, like Hamlet, you read words, words, words and take them as an art form.  

“Well, let me diagnose you as someone who is a patient of severe acute word syndrome. And let me, like a good doctor, tell you the easiest way to beat the word blues would be to engage yourself in the infamous game. 

“Do I see your palms outstretched, ever ready to stifle your yawns? Contrary to teenage belief, Scrabble is NOT boring. I pride myself in having something common with Mel Gibson, Sting, Rene Russo, Keanu Reeves, Robert Palmer, Joan Collins and Queen Elizabeth II. These famous celebrities and monarch play the wonderful word game. 

“Scrabble is an interesting combination of skill and luck. And it evokes the same sense of achievement derived from winning and the same frustration from losing, say, a football game. You need a tactical mind and although you are physically immobile, your mind is moving at the same lightning speed as a Manchester United football player embroiled in a deadly struggle for the ball against an Arsenal midfielder. I see your jaws dropping. How could I commit sacrilege by comparing the revered football to easy-peasy Scrabble? 

“Reality check: Scrabble isn’t easy to play. In addition to having bubbling enthusiasm, you must also have a more than ordinary command of the English lexicon and enough cunning to know how to score the most and prevent your opponent from scoring. Sounds kiasu? Welcome to the world of competitive Scrabble. 

“It may be difficult to master the game, but it isn’t hard to enjoy it. One can get as much pleasure from a game of Scrabble as with any game requiring physical movements. The high one can get from placing a big-scoring bingo can rival the euphoria of scoring a goal in football.  

“Ever had a beautiful word in mind but no idea on how to use it? Scrabble would be the answer. It is wonderful way to utilise all that vocabulary you have, collecting dust at the back of your mind. Being an English Literature student, I read words like surcease, hurly-burly, gorgon, howlet, therewithal, beldams and the like in my Macbeth text by the all-famous Shakespeare. Now, when and where in the world can you use such esoteric words to wow your opponent except on the Scrabble board? 

“Well, no, I haven’t started spouting such words in conversational English just yet. Nor do I profess to be a Scrabble genius. But I’m a happy player who wants to assure you that Scrabble is great game and, for once, an educational one at that!  

“Join the war of words today!” 


The second leg of the Grand Prix qualifying rounds to select representatives to the upcoming World Scrabble Championship (WSC 2003 KL) played on April 26-27, Renaissance Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, was won by Ganesh Asirvatham. Nigel Richards was second, followed by Pui Cheng Wui, Kong Chock Heng, Aaron Chong, Tony Sim, Tengku Asri Abdullah, Michael Tang, John Lam, and in 10th place, Vannitha Balasingam.  

The Open category of the Fifth Penang YMCA (Laura Lam Memorial) Scrabble Tournament held on April 19-20 at Penang YMCA, Jalan Macalister, Penang, was won by Richards. Raja Fuadin Abdullah was first runner-up followed by Jocelyn Lor, John Lam, Vannitha, Krishna Kumar, Seshi Ramanathan, Yeap Gim Sai, Albert Yeap, and in 10th place Tan Khee Chiang. Dr Mohamad Salahudin was the winner in the Penang Closed Category, while Chua Sim Swee and Pauletter Yeoh were first and second runner-up respectively.  

Word power 

Greek and Latin bases make up quite a long list of words in the English lexicon. Here are extracts containing such words (in italics), together with their meanings and a brief explanation of how they have been formed. 

1. The fervid eloquence of preachers who declaimed against the horrors of the French persecution had wrought up the people to such a temper. – Macaulay (FERVID: having burning desire or emotion: zealous: glowing; from Latin FER- to boil, to bubble.) 

2. Whether the smile began as a factitious one, to test her capacity in that art – nobody knows; it ended certainly in a real smile. – Thomas Hardy (FACTITIOUS: produced by artificial conditions; from Latin FAC- to do, to make.) 

3. Nothing in the whole adventure, not even the report, had disturbed the calm and equable current of Mr Pickwick’s temper. – Charles Dickens (EQUABLE: even: uniform: smooth: without great variations or extremes: of even temper; from Latin –ABLE, tending to, able to.) 

4. In his general deportment he was pompous and affecting a species of florid elocution which often became ridiculous. (FLORID: pink or ruddy in complexion: over-elaborate; from Latin FLOR- flower.) 

5. The prefatory chapters, which in most cases introduce the special subject of each history contains a series of retrospective surveys over the whole history of Florence. – John Addington Symonds (PREFATORY: pertaining to a preface; from Latin FA- or FAT– to speak.) 

6. Yet their discipline was such that to draw forth the encomiums of the Spanish conquerors. – William Hickling Prescott (ENCOMIUMS, plural of encomium: high commendation, a eulogy; from Greek IUM- lining or enveloping tissue.) 

7. In the adult it can cause acromegaly (a localised form of gigantism with enlargement of the jaw and extremities). – Time (ACROMEGALY: a disease characterised by overgrowth; from the Greek ACR – highest, the extremities.) 

8. He was introduced to patristic literature by finding at the bookseller’s some volumes of the fathers. – Thomas Hardy (PATRISTIC: pertaining to the fathers of the Christian Church; from Greek PATR– father.) 

9. I cannot open my lips at home on the subject we have been discussing and I am looked at coldly here, in my village on account of my heterodox opinions. – W. H. Auden (HETERODOX: holding an opinion other than or different from the one generally received, especially in theology: heretical; from Greek HETER– other, different.) 

10. The orchestra played in a web of complicated polyphony and the chorus sang in as many as 12 parts. – Time (POLYHONY: composition of music in parts each with an independent melody of its own; from Greek POLY- many, much.) 

All words highlighted above can be found in the Chambers English Dictionary. If they are of seven letters or more they can be used in the game as bingos (in Scrabble a bingo is play of a valid word of seven letters or more made in one move and scoring a bonus of 50 points!). 

I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Donald M. Ayers whose book English Words from Latin and Greek Elements has inspired me in this edition of Word Power


“But greatness is a vanishing point on the horizon, an object that recedes just a little farther when you think you’re getting closer, a desert mirage. The best players can’t help racing toward it. They are driven by the possibility of solving something that in truth might be insoluble. They can learn more and more words, maybe even all of them, but there’s always the risk that the crucial one will prove irretrievable at the necessary moment. They push and push and push anyway, because they have no choice. Perfection may be the goal, but it’s really about the search, about the chance of wringing something magical from those 3,199,724 racks”. – Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players by Stefan Fatsis 

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