Friday, October 9, 2009

When Words Matter

Okay, so my wife's sister gave her her old iPod Touch, and she's been letting me use it lately. Actually, she's been specifically requesting me to, so that we get some use out of it. It's a fantastic vent for all the bristling ideas implanted in my head after that social media conference: one of the predominant messages was "pay attention to the iPhone." It is such a cool device, in form and function, that a lot of businesses and developers are focusing on it, and it has no real competition. The Blackberry is kind of an afterthought now, a footnote.

And among my wife's family, the free game Scramble 2 is fairly popular. It's like Boggle, where you form words from contiguous letters among a random distribution of letters. For a wordsmith it can be as addictive as Tetris. At family gatherings it's not unheard of for people to pass an iPhone or iPod Touch around and compete... Actually, "compete" is a bad word for what we're doing. It's more like we're all soldiers in a platoon, assailing an impregnable stronghold represented by scoring 40 points or more.

This game is hard. It's hard to bring to mind all the words one knows and find them in combinations, or to look at the paltry selection of unlikely letters and summon words among them. It's very difficult, and it's very discouraging: frequently the end of the game is met with a chorus of regret as people review all the words they should've gotten.

Except who could get these words? I don't mind doing so badly, when the word database is so profoundly obscure. In this picture are the words dhooly, azlon, and cibol. I have never, ever heard of these words before in my life, in my extensive reading background, in my decades-long academic career.

I looked them up in the dictionary application on my iMac. It had never heard of them either.

I looked them up on Merriam-Webster. It seemed to have heard of them, but it wouldn't share their definitions without a paid account. It does that, sometimes: it saves the best words for people who shell out money for a subscription to the dictionary. Yeah, well, there are other Internet resources.

For instance, I still have my school account, and it still provides me access to the OED. What I found was as irritating as being denied the definition due to not paying for it.
doolie, dooly
A rudimentary litter or palanquin used by the lower classes in India, and as an army ambulance. (Erroneous: dhooly)
Azlon is a synthetic textile fiber composed of protein material derived from natural sources.
cibol, ciboule
Another form of chibol, known also as Stone Leek, Rock Onion, and Welsh Onion.
Note that the definition for "Azlon" doesn't appear in the OED: I found it on Wikipedia. It is a trademarked name regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. "Asia" is forbidden in Scramble 2 as being a proper noun, yet I'm penalized for not knowing "Azlon." And the other two words are incorrect or not preferred spellings of other words.

So, this game? It's kinda bullshit.


Vanessa said...

OMG that is total bullshit and a total waste of time. Do they have an app for getting a life? :)

Shanna (Crabbit) said...

I love my iPhone. The thought of returning to an inferior model makes me uncomfortable. Especially after it was my lifeline to the internet for that eight month stint.

But, some of the app developers do seem to have a little too much time on their hands, and not enough thought.