Miles Kington: Hip, hip, hooray, our word games continue; with meaning

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Yesterday I brought you an extract from a court case in which a professional Scrabble player, Mr Tom Gallant, is suing Parson's Modern English Dictionary, on the extraordinary grounds that the dictionary failed to include a word he wanted to use in a Scrabble game. Here is some more of this fascinating case ...

Counsel: So, Parson's Modern English Dictionary was the agreed official dictionary for this Scrabble tournament, was it?

Gallant: That is so.

Counsel: And then, in the final game you put down a two-letter word which you thought was genuine?

Gallant: I did.

Counsel: And the word was ...?

Gallant: "Om".

Counsel: "Om"? Not "Ohm"?

Or "Homme"?

Gallant: No. "Om".

Counsel: And if this word had been allowed, you would have won the tournament and £10,000?

Gallant: Yes. Instead of which I was disqualified. Any decent dictionary should have included "om". That is why I am suing them.

Counsel: What does "om" mean?

Gallant: It is the well-known first syllable of the famous Tibetan Buddhist mantra "Om mani padme hum", a mantra which is so central to their belief system that it should be in all dictionaries.

Counsel: And what does it mean?

Gallant: Of itself, it has no meaning. The mantra is symbolic. It is without literal meaning.

Counsel: That is surely why it is not in the dictionary. If it cannot be defined, it cannot have a definition.

Gallant: On the contrary! There are many words without meaning which are listed in dictionaries.

Counsel: Give me an example.

Gallant: Hip, hip, hooray. Hey nonny nonny. Ah. Oh. Hey. Ha!

Counsel: But these all mean something! "Hey" means that you are calling someone!

Gallant: Only in the same way that "Om" means you are meditating. The word "hey" has no meaning as such. A function, yes. A meaning, no.

Counsel: Still, at least "Hey" is English. "Om" is foreign. Why should an English dictionary include a foreign word?

Gallant: It often happens. Open a good English dictionary and you will find words such as "Alleluia" and "Aloha" and "Ole" listed.

Counsel: I am sure that "Aloha" means something in Hawaiian.

Gallant: What?

Counsel: I do not know. You are a Scrabble player. Do you not know?

Gallant: Scrabble players could not give a monkey's for meanings. They are notoriously illiterate where meanings are concerned. Spelling and vocabulary is all.

Counsel: Are all.

Gallant: Are all.

Counsel: Incidentally, Mr Gallant, I am intrigued by your name. Tom Gallant. T Gallant. That is the same as the name of a sail on a tall vessel, is it not?

Gallant: T'gallant, yes. It's the nautical shortening of topgallant.

Counsel: Have you ever used that in a Scrabble game?

Gallant: No. I have never had the letters. And as there is an apostrophe in the word, you could not use it in Scrabble. There is no punctuation permitted in Scrabble, alas.

Counsel: True. I had not thought of that. But are there any other words in English which need an apostrophe?

Gallant: How about "where'er"? As in "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun ..."

Counsel: All right, clever clogs. That's one. But it's archaic. I challenge you to think of a word in current usage which includes punctuation!

Gallant: Certainly. "Mains'l". And what about "Ne'er-do-well"? That's a word containing one apostrophe and two dashes!

Judge: I have heard about as much of this insanity as I can take. Adjourn the court! And let us have some sense when we return.

The case continues, though not in this space.

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