Scrabble expert Allan Simmons: 'We're not adding words like 'chillax' and 'po' to the players' dictionary for the sake of it'

Bromance, buzzkill, hashtag and frenemy also appear on a list of 5,000 additions to the new Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, published by American dictionary giant Merriam-Webster. Here, Allan Simmons explains what the point is

Any British Scrabble nuts in a lather about the addition of modern new words to the game's dictionary need to chillax (17 points) with a mojito (15) or something, because, linguistic snobbery aside, the words, as well as hundreds more, will not be acceptable on boards outside North America until next year.

Bromance, buzzkill, hashtag and frenemy also appear on a list of 5,000 additions to the new Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, published by American dictionary giant Merriam-Webster. But outside the US and Canada, Mattel rather than Hasbro owns the Scrabble trademark, and Collins keeps the official dictionary.

So no chillaxing here yet. But, it won't be long, because Collins is also working with Mattel and top Scrabble authorities to update its list, which routinely incorporates new US words, except those that already appear.

Complicated? Allan Simmons can help. The runner-up in the last UK championships (which he won in 2008) is also a member of the dictionary committee for the World English Language Scrabble Players Association. It receives early drafts of new editions from Collins and clarifies any doubt about, for example, plurals or adverbs. But the words are no different.

"Sometimes you think the dictionary editors put new words in for marketing purposes but we don't use anything just for the sake of Scrabble," Simmons, 56, explains from his home in the Scottish borders. "People say, 'this word doesn't mean anything, it's only there for Scrabble', but that's not true. We only use words from a respected dictionary source."

Two-letter words can prove particularly controversial, partly because they can produce big scores by linking longer words in parallel. The new, US list includes four of these: te, da, gi and po (a po is a chamber pot, apparently). But, Simmons points out, all four have appeared among the 124 two-letter words used outside North America for decades (they also include do re mi fa so la ti do). "In the US, this is really exciting because these words will enable so much more open play," he says. "They will have the most impact."

Read more: Scrabble adds 5,000 words to players' dictionary

Words such as chillax, a portmanteau once cringingly associated with David Cameron, will be less useful, Simmons says, because they are less likely to crop up. "But you could add, say, 'ax' to 'chill'." He is most excited about "coqui", a small arboreal frog. "That stuck out right away. I can imagine a lot of people using it to get rid of a c and q together. No other word allows you to do that with just vowels."

When dictionaries are updated sometimes with thousands of words, it's also the job of Simmons and his team to create a "conversion kit" of the most useful words, which competitive players will devour and memorise. He accepts that not all of them are motivated by a love of language, but, he says: "I like to know what words mean." He also enjoys their aesthetic qualities, singling out "pyengadu", an acacia-like tree, as his favourite.

His highest-scoring word? "Opaquing" – the act of making something opaque. "I played it years ago across two triples with the Q on the double." Simmons, who was made redundant as an IT project manager in 2001, tots up the score in his head, taking into account a blank tile and the 50-point bonus for using all tiles. "That would have got me 312 points," he says.

The player is also chillaxed about the inclusion of slang and "youth" words. "If you look at words that are common now, many of them would have been the youth words of their day, or portmanteau words. We've just forgotten what they are," he says. "The question is how many of these will last and have a life of their own."

Simmons is now a full-time consultant on the game and sets Scrabble puzzles for several newspapers. He has written books, too, and played at a high level for more than 35 years. How does he react when friends suggest a post-dinner round? "Once you've played at the top level, it's hard to switch to playing for fun," he says. "I'm happy to do it if people ask but they're not likely to because they know they would lose."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 2nd & 3rd Line

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The IT Support Engineer is needed to ass...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior / Mid Software Developer

    £22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Service Desk Manager

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity to join a p...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea