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?

Word 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.

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

  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

  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?

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