The image above illustrates how the second player’s, or team’s, knowledge of playable two-letter words could enable a Scrabble on the second play of the game. The first player, or team, spelled mosque. By using all seven letters, the second player earned a total of sixty-two points for pointed alone, a word that couldn’t have been played without the knowledge of the five two-letter words that the player formed vertically: op, so, qi, un, and et. The first player scored forty points with a double-word score square. Without a double-word score square, the second team scored eighty-five.
Two of the previous Wordplay Day posts include the first sixty-four of the 101 playable two-letter words, A-E (October 3) and F-N (October 8). Today’s post features the remaining thirty-seven, O-Z.
od: a hypothetical force.
oe: a whirlwind of the Faeroe Islands
of: originating from
oh: an exclamation of surprise
oi: an expression of dismay (also oy)
om: a sound used as a mantra
on: physically in contact with
op: a style of abstract art dealing with optics
or: used to link conjunctions
os: a bone
oy: an expression of dismay (also oi)
pa: a father
pe:a Hebrew letter
qi:the central life force in traditional Chinese culture (also ki)
re:a tone of the diatonic scale
sh:used to encourage silence
si: a tone of the diatonic scale (also ti)
so: to such a great extent; a tone on the diatonic scale
ta: an expression of thanks
ti:a tone of the diatonic scale
to: in the direction of
uh: used to express hesitation
up: to raise
us: a plural pronoun
ut: the musical tone C in the French solemnization system, now replaced by do
we: a first-person plural pronoun
xi: a Greek letter
xu: a former monetary unit of Vietnam equal to one-hundredth of a dong
yo: an expression used to attract attention
za: a pizza
In next Monday’s class, you will begin work on your creative project. Details TBA.
At the beginning of class on Wednesday, you will submit your fifth and final Check, Please! worksheet. If you misplace the copy you received in class, you can download one from the link below.
Although I have read Matt Richtel’s article “Blogs vs. Term Papers” many times, this semester marked the first time I had studied it as an exercise in analysis. Ordinarily, I include Richtel’s article on the syllabus as a prologue to my students’ own blogging. The article served that purpose in August as well. But as I found myself teaching a different composition curriculum that features an analysis as the first major paper assignment, Richtel’s article served a dual purpose: It not only oriented my students to the role that blogs would play in the class, it also provided them with the opportunity to study the way a writer—in this case, Matt Richtel—presents the ideas of the experts he interviews. By reading Richtel’s article, the students learned about changes in writing practices in college classrooms; by rereading Richtel, they began to see how his writing takes shape. The same was true for me.
The process of crafting a study of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” prompted me to meditate on the similarities between analysis and Scrabble, another feature of the course. The more I examined Richtel’s words, the more details I noticed. Similarly, the more closely I study the words on a Scrabble board and the tiles on a rack, the more opportunities for word building become apparent to me. This semester, the processes of writing an analysis of “Blogs vs. Term Papers” and playing Scrabble have deepened my understanding of how those two activities cultivate the focus that leads to the discoveries intrinsic to learning.
One of those moments of discovery occurred for me as I was rereading the paragraph in Richtel’s article where he addresses an argument put forth by experts who frown on replacing the term paper with the blog. Richtel reports their claim that if teachers want to reduce term papers to blog posts, why not bypass blogs altogether and ask nothing more of their students than tweets? In my previous readings of the paragraph, I was drawn primarily to the clever mimicry at the end. There Richtel omits letters from the words “Sherman’s March,” spelling it as “Shermn’s Mrch” to imitate the word-shortening technique characteristic of the Twitter platform.
As I studied the paragraph more closely, I saw beyond the intentional misspellings at the conclusion. Subsequently, what preceded the imitation of Twitterese became far more revealing. I noticed that the paragraph consisted of only one sentence—one of only two one-sentence paragraphs in the article—and that Richtel’s presentation of the claim demonstrates a flaw in the experts’ logic: “Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?” Realizing that Richtel presented one of their assertions as a logical fallacy, led me to this point: “To assert that defenders of traditional academic writing carry their opponents’ argument to an absurd conclusion presents those advocates of old-school writing as purveyors of the same flawed logic that their own traditional rhetoric supposedly teaches students to avoid.”
Additionally, I considered the effect of choosing to present the fallacy as a one-sentence paragraph, noting that “[b]y introducing an apparent contradiction in the argument of the advocates of old-school writing, Richtel subverts their claim; and by presenting that incongruity as a one-sentence paragraph, he highlights the issue.”
Reflecting on the effect of the one-sentence paragraph, with its emphasis on a single idea, led me to reexamine the other one-sentence paragraph in the article. That paragraph, a sentence spoken by Professor Cathy Davidson of the City University of New York, underscores the prominence of her words and ideas in Richtel’s article, an observation of mine that led me to the thesis, that “[a]lthough Richtel’s article appears to present an objective account of the disagreements among experts, a close examination of the diction and structure of ‘Blogs vs. Term Papers’ reveals a preference for the innovations advocated by Davidson and Lundsford.”
Rereading Richtel’s article through a writer’s lens showed me details I had scarcely noticed before, ones that now in plain view lead me to ask repeatedly, How could I have missed that? It’s a question I have also found myself asking when a word emerges from a seemingly hopeless combination of Scrabble tiles. Sometimes my students chide themselves for what they didn’t see on the board or the rack, but those realizations are almost always part of the composing process, whether we’re building words with tiles, or pens, or laptops. The closer we look, the more we discover, which is learning in its purest form.
Learning the two-letter words you can play in Scrabble increases your opportunities to form multiple words in parallel play. The list that follows includes the first thirty-three of the 101 playable two-letter words.
aa: a type of stony, rough lava,
ab: an abdominal muscle
ad: an advertisement
ah: an exclamation
ai: a three-toed sloth
al: a type of East Indian tree
am: the first-person singular present form of “to be”
an: an indefinite article
ar: the letter r
as: similar to
at: the position of
aw: an expression of protest or sadness
ax: a sharp-edged tool
ay: a vote in the affirmative
ba: the soul in ancient Egyptian spirituality
be: to exist
bi: a bisexual
bo: a pal
by: a side issue
de: of; from
do: a tone on a scale
ef: the letter f
eh: used to express doubt
el: an elevated train
em: the letter m
en: the letter n
er: used to express hesitation
es: the letter s
et: a past tense of eat
ex: the letter x
On Wednesday, October 4, you will receive your midterm reflection draft with my notes, and you will have the class period to begin your revision work. The works cited list that follows includes entries for some of the sources that you may cite. You are required to quote or paraphrase two relevant sources, one of which may be your analysis. If you choose to cite your analysis, follow the format of the work cited entries for my sample papers, “The Strange Fruit of Sosnowiec,” and “On its Face, Who Could Disagree with the Transformation?: Revisiting Richtel’s Report on the Blog-Term Paper Question.”
Developing the ability to analyze involves becoming more observant. As you continue to play Scrabble on Wordplay Days this semester, consider how each game is an additional exercise in becoming more observant.
Examine the image at the top of this post. There you will see what could be the opening play in a game of Scrabble. Any of the three letters in “lox” could be on the center square. Why might the player, or team, have placed the “l” rather than the “o” on the center square?
The image directly above this paragraph illustrates the potential benefit of not placing the “o” on the center square. If the opponent has two high-value consonants, the first player, or team risks the chance of the opponent playing those consonants and doubling their value on the bonus squares, whereas it’s unlikely that the opponent will be able play consonants–high value ones or not–on both sides of the “I” or the “x.”
In class on Wednesday, September 29, you will submit your completed worksheet for the third lesson in the Check, Please! assignment series. The students in the 10:40 a.m. class received the worksheet today. The students in the 9:15 a.m. class will receive the worksheet on Monday. Also, you can download the worksheet at the link below. In class on Wednesday, you will begin drafting your midterm reflection. For that preliminary work, you will need to bring a paper copy of your revised analysis to class.
If a player, or a team, uses all seven of its tiles in one play, the player, or team, earns fifty points in addition to the points for the words played. Congratulations to the team of Zack Chadwell and Tanner Rothenbereger in the 9:15 class for Scrabbling by building on “trap” with “minutes” (using a blank for the s), and also forming “am” (first-person singular form of the verb “be”) and “pi” (the numerical value of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter), which later in the game became “pig.”
If the players had not seen the opportunity to form the two-letter words “am” and “pi,” they would not have Scrabbled.
Look for opportunities that two-letter words can offer. There are sixteen two-letter words starting with a, so you have a 62% chance that any tile you put after an a will form a word.
What if you begin a game of Scrabble with only vowels? The image above shows what could be the first three words played in a game in which no player (or team) has a consonant. None of the three words yields many points, but the “e” in “oe” offers the opportunity for a player to score a double triple. Playing “be'” or “me” and another word vertically would earn the player eighteen points for the “b” or “m” alone; playing “h” or “w” would earn the player twenty-four points for the “h” or “w” alone.
Often playing a vowel-only word brings opportunities for high scores later. Here are some of the words you can play if you find yourself without consonants:
aa: a type of stony, rough lava
ai: a three-toed sloth
eau: water (pl. eaux)
oe: a whirlwind off the Faero islands
oi: an expression of dismay (also oy)
In class someone asked about the pronunciation of aa. It is pronounced ah-ah.
Congratulations to the team of Braeden Thompson and Nate Alleman in the 10:40 class. Braeden and Nate scored a 126-point double-triple play with the word “evaporate,” which they formed by adding the letters “e,” “a,” “t,” and “e” to the word “vapor” played in a previous turn.
In class on Monday, September 13, we will explore ways for you to proceed with the revision work that you will begin in class on Wednesday. For class, read the overview to Chapter 2 of Writing Analytically and bring your copy of the textbook to class.
Ordinarily Wordplay Days are days when we all turn away from our screens, but yesterday I took the opportunity to photograph you as a way of helping us continue to put names with faces. In between the photographs of you and your classmates, I’ve included lists of some first names that are playable in Scrabble (because they are common nouns as well as proper ones). Continue to review these pictures and their captions to learn the names of your classmates, and study the lists of names in between to build your vocabulary.
Al: a type of East Indian tree
Alan: a breed of hunting dog (also aland, alant)
Alec: a herring
Ana: a collection of miscellany about a specific topic
Anna: A former Indian coin
Barbie: a barbecue
Belle: a pretty woman
Ben: an inner room
Benny: an amphetamine pill
Bertha: a type of wide collar
Beth: a Hebrew Letter
Biff: to hit
Bill: a charge for goods or services
Billy: a short club
Bo: a friend
Bobby: a policeman
Bonnie: pretty (also bonny)
Brad: a small nail or tack
Carl: a peasant or manual laborer (also carle)
Carol: to sing merrily
Celeste: a percussive instrument (also celesta)
Chad: a scrap of paper
Chevy: to chase (also chivy)
Christie: a type of turn in skiing (also christy)
Clarence: an enclosed carriage
Dagwood: a large stuffed sandwich (named after the comic strip character who was fond of them)
Daphne: a flowering shrub with poisonous berries
Davy: a safety lamp
Deb: a debutante
Devon: a breed of cattle
Dexter: located to the right
Dom: a title given to some Monks
Don: to put on a piece of clothing
Donna: an Italian woman of repute
Erica: a shrub of the heath family
Fay: to join together closely
Florence: a former European gold coin
Franklin: a nonnoble medieval English landowner
Fritz: a nonworking or semi-functioning state
Gilbert: a unit of magneto-motive force
Gilly: to transport on a type of train car
Graham: whole wheat flour
Hank: to secure a sail
Hansel: to give a gift to, usually to commence a new year (also handsel)
Harry: to harrass
Henry: a unit of electric inductance
Herby: full of herbs
Jack: to hoist with a type of lever
Jacky: a sailor
To learn whether a name is playable in Scrabble, type it in the box on the Scrabble Dictionary page, and click “GO!”
For class on Monday, August 30, read “Skim Reading is the New Normal.” Afterward, compose brief reading notes in your journal. Include (1) the title and author, (2) the main points, and (3) any questions or observations you would like to address in class. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms in the article, look up their meanings and jot those in your journal as well.
The Guardian article “Spell Bound” notes that the exact beginning of Scrabble is “debatable,” adding that “Scrabble experts are the kind of people who like to debate it at length.” In a piece of writing such as this–one that begins at the beginning of the game–the starting point could be Lexico, which is the game that Alfred Mosher Butts developed before he invented Scrabble–which, by the way, wasn’t named Scrabble until Butts sold the game to Jacob Brunot. That’s when the game that Butts had christened Criss-Cross Words became the game that would multiply to more than 150 million sets worldwide, a game that can now be found in a third of homes in America (Bukszpan 16).
If that description of Scrabble’s beginnings doesn’t capture your interest–perhaps because you don’t think of yourself as a word person–consider this: Scrabble’s inventor wasn’t a word person either. Butts was fascinated by games of all sorts and saw word games as the category that offered the most opportunities for innovation. For him, that innovation meant creating a game in which the frequency of letters corresponded with their frequency in the English language. As part of his research, he documented how often each letter appeared on the front page of the newspaper. E is most common, so there are twelve E’s in Scrabble but only one tile for each of the rarest of letters: J, K, Q, X, and Z. For many players, including me, part of Scrabble’s appeal is the combination of skill and luck. Word power alone won’t win the game. You don’t know which letters you will draw or which seven letter tiles are on your opponent’s rack. And for many players, another source of the game’s appeal is its synthesis of crosswords and anagrams.
Since creating words from anagrams is a process of letter scrambling, James Brunot may have chosen the name Scrabble in part for its similarity to scramble, but the word scrabble itself is apt for a game that often requires a player to struggle (or scrabble) to make a word from a seemingly impossible combination of tiles. It’s notable, too, that Scrabble’s beginnings date to the 1930s, when its inventor was an out-of-work architect. He wanted to create a diversion from the dark days of the Depression. Now it’s a game that many of us have returned to, pantomiming the ghosts of those first-generation players. Once again, it’s a game for hardscrabble times.
Bukszpan, David. Is That a Word?: From AA to ZZZ, the Weird and Wonderful Language of Scrabble. Chronicle, 2012.