With 50,000 new words, Words With Friends is now my enemy

Yeah, this is Scrabble. I like Scrabble better.

Words With Friends has just added 50,000 new pop-culture words.

This is horrifying.

According to the AP:

WORDS WITH FRIENDS ADDS 50,000 POP CULTURE WORDS

by Mark Kennedy, AP ENTERTAINMENT WRITER

NEW YORK (AP) — Tell your bae or your bestie: The mobile game Words With Friends is adding thousands of pop culture words as part of its largest dictionary update in the game’s eight-year history.

Game developer Zynga told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it is adding 50,000 internet slang words, including BFF, fitspo, delish, FOMO, hangry, kween, smize, TFW, turnt, twerk, yas – as well as bae and bestie.

Gurpreet Singh, director of product for the Scrabble-esque game, said Words With Friends players are constantly reaching out – on social media and in the game itself, which has a submission feature – with words they’d like added to the dictionary. He said Zynga gets 5,000 suggestions a day, which formed the basis of the update.

“For us, it’s a way to listen to our players and also have a bit of fun,” Singh said. “The words that they’re requesting are really a reflection of what they’re doing in their day-to-day life and how they communicate with their loved ones.”

The multiplayer phone-friendly crossword game has been installed more than 200 million times since 2009, according to Zynga. This year, an estimated 57 million active Words With Friends games are being played around the world at any given time.

The 50,000 new words will be added to the existing dictionary of 173,000 words, which is always evolving. The game earlier this year added “covfefe” after President Donald Trump introduced the mysterious term and it spread like wildfire on social media, while twerk and selfie were added in 2014.

Singh said there’s no hard-and-fast rule for what constitutes a word and what doesn’t. The team leans toward ones that are inclusive and popular.

“We try to be very holistic in our thinking,” he said. “It’s a game based on connecting and if we feel our values are being adhered to by the word that we’re adding, then even if it’s not a proper word – as a standard dictionary would consider it to be – we would still go ahead and add those.”

Does Singh have some favorites? Yes, the high-point offering queso – “anytime I can use a ‘q,’ I’m happy,” he said – as well as turnt, which is a variation on “turn up” that means getting excited.

What’s the big deal?

Words With Friends is a game. So why do I even give a crap?

As a writer, I operate within a specific lexicon — a clear collection of words whose meanings are clear. If I tell you I find this announcement appalling, you can trust me that appalling is word. If you don’t know what it means, you can look it up. Your trust in me as a writer also tells you that once you’ve learned what it means, you can use it, too.

There are plenty of “words” outside the lexicon. I’m not going to tell you I’m turnt. I’m won’t explain TFW I read an AP article like this. And since no one knows what covfefe actually means, it’s not appropriate to use it to mean anything.

I’m well aware that the boundaries of that lexicon are blurry and ever-changing. Blog didn’t used to be a word. Now it is. So is selfie. These words started outside the boundary of the lexicon and through common usage, they migrated to the inside.

I’ve got my own idea of where those boundaries lie, and I’m also respectful of the authorities that make those choices, like Merriam-Webster and The American Heritage Dictionary.

When you write me an email, share a report with me, create a blog post, or even tweet (from a business twitter account), I expect you to know the difference between heel and heal, how to correctly spell tap, and that FOMO isn’t an appropriate term for that communication. You and I share a common understanding of what it means to communicate, which includes a shared lexicon and the meanings of the words in that lexicon.

Many of us also operate outside that lexicon in different contexts. We text each other and tweet with TBH (to be honest) and fitspo (fitness inspiration). This is slang, and I celebrate it.

And I love word games. They’re a fun way to train the brain, and a great way to learn new words.

But if the boundary of the lexicon is blurry in everyday writing, it’s precise in word games. You can’t play TBH in scrabble, because it’s an acronym, and slang. And Word With Friends ought to know that kween isn’t acceptable for queen — yet.

Adding 50,000 words words to a 173,000-word lexicon will ruin the game. Neither player is going to know at any given moment if covfefe or IMHO is legal. It’s like driving in India, where you mostly get to make up the rules yourself. It’s not a coincidence that Indian drivers are always honking their horns. I don’t want to write in a world where writers are doing the same.

These games are training players for a world where the are no boundaries between the real and the fake. And given the current state of online media, we ought to be revering those boundaries.

I may be on the wrong side of history here, but somebody has to pull in the other direction.

Here’s what to do about it

Go to the Words With Friends page on your phone’s app store and enter a one-star review, citing the expansion of the lexicon as the reason.

Start playing Scrabble. The Scrabble dictionary is subject to plenty of arguments, but at least it isn’t adding 50,000-word chunks of FOMO and shizzle.

Go ahead. Disagree with me in the comments. But you had better write them in something that resembles clear English.

27 responses to “With 50,000 new words, Words With Friends is now my enemy

    1. I agree. Words is no longer valid. No definition, just a bunch of letters and they call it a valid word. Some abbreviations are fine, but others are not. They want to be more inclusive!!! Just like giving every child a prize just for playing. I also question how the letters are dropped. One of my opponents had 3 seven letter words in one game. And the letters are dropped randomly??? I don’t think so. Swapping and getting same letters back, getting 6 vowels or consonants in most of the games being played seems very fishy. Not the game it used to be. Several of my real life friends agree and are wanting to phase out. Been playing for 8 years and hate to quit. But it’s not much fun anymore.

  1. The ‘Scrabble Dictionary’ goes far beyond the requirements of a good game of Scrabble and is the thin edge of the wedge. Standardization on an established dictionary constrains the game (minimally) and avoids a lot of pointless arguments – it matters not which dictionary is chosen as long as the choice is consistent.
    When there are no standards for legitimacy, the game becomes, in the sense of Henry Frankfurt’s essay, simply bullshit, “producing bullshit to whatever extent the circumstances require”.

  2. I’m afraid this is an inevitable consequence of the dumbing down of the world’s youth. Inventing words that have no discernible meaning outside a few game players or social media addicts narrows their horizons still further. I can see them all Bluetoothed to each other in a few years’ time chirping away in their impenetrable gobbledygook while the rest of us get on with our lives, reading good books and writing to the limits of our energy and talent. Deeply depressing.
    A question to your correspondent Eric about the Scrabble dictionary: does it describe pizzazz as a word that is legal in the sense that it’s allowed under the rules of the game or that its meaning has a legal context? Pizzazz is a recognised word, from British English, and is listed by the Oxford, Collins, Merriam-Webster dictionaries and others. It means, of course, ‘style and flamboyance’ and was allegedly coined in the 1930s by Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar

    1. I stopped playing.
      Was getting beat CONSTANTLY by bullshit words and words that, in my 57 years of reading and studying, I had never come across. Not a few times, a LOT of times.
      If I want to get cheated I’ll play the stock market.

  3. I agree with your points.. and would like to add that Zynga to justify the addition of slang words as “being holistic” etc ISridiculous/bs. Do they think we are fools? They are, unsurprisingly, selling their soul to the devil. Devil= more words, more people, more money $$$$ VS Ethical = staying true to the purpose of the game, keeping the language unadulterated, not allowing colloquial terms and abbreviations. I have not yet played online Scrabble but am not trusting that either. Deleting my Words with Friends app and leaving a 1 star review. Goodbye, WWF!

  4. You talk a lot about words, yet you refer to the game once as “Word with Friends”. Maybe we shouldn’t be trusting your “expert” opinion. Languages are living things, and they change all the time. IMHO will never be accepted because it is an abbreviation. If we allow people to use kween enough, it becomes a word, like it or not. And until English is governed by one body, we will always have this debate. The “Real Academia Española” is the governing body of Spanish, and it dictates what is and isn’t a word. It’s not like it’s one private company trying to capitalize off dictionary sales.

    You push Scrabble on your readers as the better alternative. That’s kind of narrow minded don’t you think? After all, we are playing games with words, right? So if we all have the same limitations, it’s fair for all of us. Scrabble uses its own dictionary but who’s to say that one has to be the correct one, or even the only one?

    1. Then why, when I tried to play the word “cunt” did I not get credit for a real word?
      It’s more real than “Qi” or “Za” or some other bullshit word created by a low IQ moron that has become acceptable.
      By the way, “Twat” was also unacceptable.
      The English language has been bastardized and perverted so as to dumb everyone down.
      Do you think that a dopey kid who writes in text language every day has a vague clue of either how to spell the bigger words or what they mean? LOL

      1. Word. up, Vic! I just tried to play “twat” and it was a no-go. Same with the word “fag” which I know is legitimately a burning amber and common British slang for a cigarette (I’m Canadian, but resided in England over the years). Not allowed. I see antiquated words from foreign lands all the time and know my opponent has cheated (the length and frequency of these words-from-the-fringe is far from subtle). And Words With Friends is right there feeding the bullsh*t. Really fed up with these cheating twats. There, I used it in a sentence!

  5. And yet they just removed pe from the acceptable words even though their hindsight program still shows you words that use pe. When I wrote and asked why, they said because it means physical education and that’s not acceptable….seriously? But I can play twf and c’mon? And pe is a Hebrew letter.

  6. I stopped playing Words with Friends because it began to anger me. I can’t believe that this should be the end result of something we do for fun. I am not a gamer, nor do I care about winning a Golden Pretzel, or some such ‘prize.’ All I wanted was to play with an actual friend during this time of enforced isolation. I work hard to maintain my vocabulary. It is a matter of pride for me, as an avid reader. To lose a game to my friend, who regularly relies on words that are, “valid Words with Friends” words but have no real definition, is ludicrous. Moving letters around until you find a fit is not fun, not stimulating and certainly not educational.

    1. Dear Linda,

      I cannot thank you enough; your commentary on the present state of what used to be an enjoyable online game hit the nail on the head.

      Like yourself, I take ‘pride and joy’ in possessing, applying, and continually enhancing my vocabulary; in fact, the Bachelor’s Degree on my basement wall was earned in the field of English Literature.

      Unfortunately, the English language seems to be under assault. The decline of ‘Words with Friends’ can, in my view, be looked at as a microcosm of a much larger cultural decline, which is spurred by the inability of people to communicate.

      What I don’t understand is, what is the fun of playing this game to these countless individuals who can’t define 5% of the words that they use?

      Best regards,

      Scott

  7. Frustrating to admit defeat because thinking the abbreviated word of doctor as DR should be allowed and have won me a game with my last 2 tiles considering all the other bullshit abbreviated foreign words are allowed and justified with the “valid word with friends”.
    Getting more annoyed playing due to these valid bullshit words and even justifying to myself now its fine to use QI when im losing.
    What The Fuk is the point in cheating myself for then i haven’t legitimately won in my own right and dont see the point playing if i am cheating.
    Fed Up To Fuk and will be leaving WWF.

    1. And yet, given the clusterf**k that is happening with Scrabble GO, I may be forced back to Words With Friends to keep playing with my 95-year old mom.

  8. If everyone uses Words with Friends Cheat and puts in their letters, all of the available words to use will come up.
    Then everyone is on the same playing level. So the challenge is to add a new word to an existing letter or letters and try to gain the most points and block your partner. The only problem there is that Words with Friends with a 4 on the tile is an older version and doesn’t have as many acceptable words as Words with Friends 2. It cannot be updated on a kindle or MAC so the playing field can get frustrating at times because of all the new not word words. Sheesh!

    S

    1. I agree completely. It’s not the same game—-words that are valid but have no definition or can be used in a sentence, all the ridiculous 2 and 3 letter”words”, and no random distribution of letters, for sure. Their reasoning was to make the game more “inclusive”! Same thing as awarding medals to everyone in a race simply because they participated. I hate the word “woke”, but this now defines the people who are running the show and ruining the game.

  9. I just stumbled on this. Like steve cohen ive played Scrabble with my mom since i was a child clear up til she was 92. The challenge was always playing in someones place theyd picked for their turn looking up words or spellings and especially 2 letter ones. Theres been times ive played legit words n told sorry not in dict. Yet see these crazy ass words n spellings ive never seen or heard of and I’m an avid reader. I agree with comments on here. I get it but this nxt. Gen. Is so clueless. Tech.savvy maybe but old school fun n survival is over their head. The fun of this game was the challenge of using your brain and having to think and learning new words n meanings among other skills. I realize its only a game but whats the point if everything is acceptable n no challenge.at all.

  10. Folks, I haven’t read all of these posts, but here is what may be a new point of view: stop thinking about words with friends is being about defining English. We have a wonderful language. It has an unbelievably rich history, unlocks many doors, and facilitates activities from discussing WWF and _playing_ WWF. Because I’m playing a human not a computer, it is the only online game I play. If neither cheats (a BIG if), the game is enormously pleasurable. It has nothing to do with what English qua language actually _is_. Stumbling on and remembering Zynga’s vocabulary is as cool as solving any other word puzzle. But there’s ONE MORE IMPORTANT ISSUE. WHY does Zynga add all these bullshit words? What’s their motivation? Is it that somebody will like it that they finally get to use BAE on their mobile? I think not. It’s because of “Word Strength” — it’s obvious. How does Zinga make money from me? Clicks. That’s it. I’ve never actually given them a nickel. What makes me click? Playing a word. And what makes me play?? It’s that little growing rainbow that I check just before playing a word. And when am I most enthusiastic to play—when that thing goes up very little into the green. Because—as everyone knows, that means there’s a “big” word in there somewhere. And how does Zynga make sure there is a “big” word in there? By dumping an extra 50,000 a little words in to the dictionary. So all those extra combinations can work and make that green stripe the Green Road you walk down to more clicks.

    So stop stressing out about what WWF says to us or doesn’t say to us about our wonderful language. It says nothing. They just want more clicks.

    By the way, here’s something else to think about. Do you really think Zynga doles out letters in a strictly random way, irrespective of how their logic may think they can get you to play more? I don’t. Why would they?

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