Thursday, August 12, 2010

"X-U" Too, Buddy!

Word came last night that K.Q., creator of alternative worlds and a college radio friend, has suffered a small stroke. His demeanor remains feisty and humorous; he later posted on Facebook, "I'll still beat you in Scrabble if you don't make me use my left hand."

Have I been called out?

With K.Q. in mind, this seems an excellent time to disclose my burgeoning Scrabble habit -- possibly an addiction by now. (Yes, I know I'm supposed to use the ® symbol after each instance of the word Scrabble. Let's pretend I did.)

I have two principal enablers: my Beloved Spousal Unit, who challenges me routinely and defeats me regularly in our epic series of spirited analog contests ("You're going down, Tile-Boy!"), and, a multi-user gaming site that is the licensed host, promoter, and operator of the "official" online version of Scrabble.

(If you think I'm shilling here, please be advised that I am not an obsolete English coin, nor do I own a bloody sock. Ahem.)

The two Scrabble experiences are different. Keeping our rivalry casual and friendly -- the usual trash-talking at kickoff time notwithstanding -- Beloved Spousal Unit and I rely upon Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed. as our handy reference. Utterances such as "A-H", "E-R" and "U-M" are old friends, and I've inherited a familiarity with the wonders of "J-O" and "Q-I" from my Scrabble-playing parents. These are all fair game according to Merriam-Webster.

Subsequently, however, my overconfidence in thinking I'd become a bona fide Scrabble person led me online to, where the game site's Scrabble-playing 'bot -- and the carbon-based life-forms that frequent the community, I might add -- immediately confronted me with nuggets of rare ore such as "A-A", "O-D", and "X-U". A thorough knowledge of two- and three-letter words is essential for a full and healthy life, granted, but "X-U"? What the bleep?

Turns out, a xu (n.) is a Vietnamese coin. Not just any Vietnamese coin, but a formerly minted Vietnamese coin, as obsolete nowadays as the English shilling (or the word "nowadays"). The plural of xu is xu, too. All of which is completely irrelevant, of course; the only thing that matters is that "X-U" somehow snuck into the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, 4th Ed., the standard reference used for online Scrabble. To the automated 'bot, "X-U" is as good as "C-E-N-T"; just another allowable permutation of the 26 letters of the alphabet, hence, just as likely to appear depending on the game situation. It's a great way to use two inconvenient letters in the same turn while increasing your vocabulary, thereby impressing and angering your friends.

With an arsenal full of "A-R", "P-E", and "U-T", as well as the aforementioned "X-U", I now feel vaguely qualified to respond in kind to Recovering Carbon-Based Unit K.Q.'s all-comers challenge: "You're going down, Tile-Boy!"

(Please don't hurt me.)

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