During the three years I spent studying English Literature at university, I could only come up with one decent reason why dreary Old English was on the syllabus. Scrabble. One day, I mused, the fact that I spent precious hours trying to translate poems about warriors with frosty beards that could have been devoting to punting or binge drinking will come in useful. It might give me a grounding in those ancient two and three letter words that sound like Anglo Saxon battle cries delivered with a lisp that are the key to aceing the game. Scraps of arcane knowledge that are utterly useless anywhere else.
Now, however, my critical advantage has been snatched away, before I ever managed to use it. The rules of the classic word game have been changed to allow the use of proper nouns, ushering in people's names – notably celebrities as the makers eagerly point out – place names, company names, and brands. Previously, only a few proper nouns had been allowed, decided by a word list based on the Collins dictionary, but now linguistic anarchy has broken out.
The manufacturers, Mattel, have said that the new version of the game, which will come out in July alongside existing ones, will have no clear rules about whether a proper noun is correct or not. If that wasn't bad enough, they are even considering allowing players to spell words backwards and upwards, and place words without connecting them to other pieces. Basically, anything goes and this just isn't cricket. Or rather, it isn't Scrabble.
There are practical problems to consider. Whereas disputes over the validity of a word can currently be resolved with a flick through the dictionary, verifying dubious assertions about the names of long forgotten Big Brother contestants or members of the 1976 Canadian bobsleigh team would entail endless Googling or blind trust.
The real problem here, though, isn't that a finished Scrabble board could resemble the front page of Heat; it's that, like GCSEs, the game will get easier. And it's not exactly Mensa territory as it is. A spokeswoman for Mattel said that the new rules would, "enable younger fans and families to get involved," suggesting that the only thing preventing teenagers from trading playing their Wii in a locked bedroom for a word game en famile is the chance to spell out N-Dubz. Except that N-Dubz wouldn't be allowed because there's no hyphen in scrabble, so while Mattel are playing fast and loose with the rules, why not introduce exclamation marks as well, with extra points for emphasis? And what about Smilies? And text speak? Surely that would get the kidz off the streetz and playing Scrabble.
Maybe though, there are actually some " young people," and not so young people, who are sufficiently sentient to play by the existing rules, and who like a challenge. After all, there's no thrill in an easy win, which is why a recent victory in my local pub quiz was only sweet because it's a difficult one. In the rare event that I triumph at Scrabble I want to be filled with righteous smugness and snobbery, and the sense that I'm a Master of the English language, not the slightly shameful awareness that I won because I know Dannii Minogue spells her name with two 'i's.