It aint broke. Don’t fix it. Scrabble adding a hyphen and apostrophe?

I was reading the most recent issue of Scrabble News (members only!) and chanced upon this. Hasbro is considering adding hyphen and apostrophe tiles to the game. First of all, no. Absolutely not. Scrabble is the best selling board game of all time. To imply that you need to change it, let alone add non-letter tiles, is just brutal. Also, more than any other game, Scrabble has been run by its players. Most of the employees of the N.S.A. are actually expert-level players. Additionally, before you could buy a handy dandy word list, you had to use an actual dictionary. When it was decided that a word list was actually going to be created, it was assembled by players who would go through dictionaries and hand-write every word, and submit it. If whoever was going through the dictionary missed a word, it wasn’t allowed. The outrage from players, among whom are mainly purists, is going to be overwhelming.

To address the apostrophe first, it’s complicated. Many people don’t know how to properly use the apostrophe in regular writing, let alone in a board game. Very simply, there are many usages for the apostrophe:

1) to form possessives of nouns (the dog’s fur)
2) to show the omission of letters (don’t, can’t, etc.)
3) time and money references in constructions (one hour’s respite, two weeks’ holiday, a dollar’s worth, five pounds’ worth)
4) in abbreviations (gov’t for government, twas? ’til?)

There are many others, and there is some disagreement about certain usages.

What’s even more maddening is the number of common misuses of apostrophes which would make playing the game near impossible unless it was a gathering of fans of orthography.

1) When the noun is a normal plural, with an added s, no extra s is added in the possessive, so pens’ lids (where there is more than one pen) is correct rather than pens’s lids. If the plural is not one that is formed by adding s, add an s for the possessive, after the apostrophe: children’s hats, women’s hairdresser, some people’s eyes (but compare some peoples’ recent emergence into nationhood, where peoples is meant as the plural of the singular people). These principles are universally accepted.
2) If a singular noun ends with an /s/ or a /z/ sound (spelled with -s, -se, -z, -ce, for example), practice varies as to whether to add ‘s or the apostrophe alone. In general, a good practice is to follow whichever spoken form is judged best: the boss’s shoes, Mrs Jones’ hat (or Mrs Jones’s hat, if that spoken form is preferred). In many cases, both spoken and written forms differ between writers.
3) No apostrophe is used in the following possessive pronouns and adjectives: yours, his, hers, ours, its, theirs, and whose. (Many people wrongly use it’s for the possessive of it, but authorities are unanimous that it’s can only be a contraction of it is or it has.)

How would it be decided what’s acceptable? The spelling fo’c’s’le, contracted from the nautical term forecastle, is notable for having three apostrophes. The spelling bo’s’n’s (from boatswain’s), as in Bo’s’n’s Mate, also has three apostrophes, two showing omission and one possession. The fo’c’s’le’s timbers is also possible, and has four apostrophes in one word. The abbreviations would be hard to pick and choose.

The hyphen is a whole different story. Most people don’t use them at all, a large majority of the time.

First, some of the most common rules:

1) Two or more adjectives before a noun that act as one idea (one-thought adjectives) are connected with a hyphen.
Examples:This is a low-budget job. [The sense is not this is a low job and a budget job. The words low and budget are linked into the single concept of “low-budget.”]

First-class decisions require clear-headed thinking.
He has a devil-may-care attitude.
He is a typical twelve-year-old.

2) Concepts that become to be known as one (X-ray, mother-in-law, top-notch)
3) Numbers and fractions (twenty-three, twenty-fifth, one-fourth, two-thirds)
4) Clarity (re-sign for resign, re-creation for recreation)
Of course, there are many other rules, most of which come with exceptions.

Common misuses/exceptions:

1) Do not use one with adverbs ending in -ly (a project planned carefully, a virus discovered recently)
2) Do not hyphenate words prefixed by non, un, in, dis, co, anti, hyper, pre, re, post, out, bi, counter, de, semi, mis, mega, micro, inter, over, and under (among others) except when the second element is capitalized, as in Un-American and non-English, a hyphen is used.
Of course, there are many more.

Messing with the game isn’t worth it. You would have to completely redo all of the Scrabble word lists. Because there are actually two official word lists, OWL/OSPD (for the U.S., Canada and Israel) and OSW (the rest of the world), different lists will have a different usages depending on the country. Fact is, nobody is going to purchase Scrabble because of the new tiles. The game never really had “pizazz” in the traditional sense and that’s the way it should be. To change the game so that a few Scrabble addicts can now score triple-triples twice a game is just absurd. It would also further the gap between coffee-table players and professionals.

Eh. No thanks.


2 comments on “It aint broke. Don’t fix it. Scrabble adding a hyphen and apostrophe?

  1. Peter Roizen says:

    You might find these changes to Scrabble interesting. They turn it into a completely different game about long words and much more thinking.

  2. mitch b says:

    the article was published on April 1st. Now you can play jiggery-pokery 🙂

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