The Big Dic Versus the Small Dic

I have a lot to say about the National Scrabble Championship held in Orlando, Florida a few weeks ago, but I’ve forgotten most of it. My memory is a sieve. I should have written something earlier but school got in the way–the first week is always time consuming and anxiety provoking. Damned job.  I did write an article about The Scrabble Scandal, which should be published in the wonderful online journal The Rumpus later this week. I’ll post the link when it appears.

Briefly—Marty did better than expected playing in the Collins division. He came in fourth! He remembers every word he played in each one of his 32 games.

I did better than expected playing in Division 3.  I barely remember whom I played, much less any words.

I worked hard on my sportsmanship. I didn’t glare at my opponents or groan—groaning is no longer officially allowed. I did whimper a bit. As my friend Melissa Routzahn points out, there’s nothing in the rules about whimpering. And I put an ancient Lithuanian curse on several of my opponents. Other than whimpering and curse-placing I behaved decently.

Nigel won the championship. Nigel pretty much always wins the championship. That’s why he’s no longer Nigel Richards, but just Nigel. Nigel is the Oprah of Scrabble.

I did write something while in Florida, but I forgot to post it. It’s about the big dic and the small dic. Here it is:

We are in a cheery and well-equipped vacation rental in Orlando. My husband has been studying the big dic all day. Since I play with the small dic, that’s what I’ve been studying. Oh, come on, what did you think I meant? Dic is not an acceptable word, either in the big dictionary or the small dictionary. The big dictionary is the Collins dictionary, used in Scrabble play in England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nigeria—in all of the countries of the Scrabble playing world except for Canada, the United States, Israel, and, surprisingly, Thailand, which play with the small dic—the North American 2006 Official Tournament and Club Word List, the 2nd edition, often referred to as either the OWL or the TWL, short for The Word List.  (There is also a version used for school and family play that omits offensive words.)

Marty calls the Collins dictionary the world dictionary: “The Collins has fifty percent more words than the TWL.”

He is always telling me things like “Here’s an interesting word that’s only good in Collins. I won’t tell you what it is, though. I don’t want you to play it accidently and have it challenged off the board.”

Words make their way into Collins much more quickly than they do into the TWL because the Collins is already a dictionary much like Merriam-Webster’s, while the TWL is compiled using four major college-level dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster. The problem is that the National Scrabble Player’s Association dictionary committee does not update the Scrabble lexicon on a yearly basis. In fact, the last time the TWL was amended was in 2006.  This means that internet, texting, emo, and unibrow are unacceptable in the small dic, but okay in the big one.  Some words, inexplicably, have never been okay, such as feedings and clit.  (Come on, TWL dictionary people—every new mother in the United States knows about feedings and every adolescent boy knows about clits.)

I forgot to mention that a modified Collins is also used on the planet AEIOU, whose inhabitants speak a language completely bereft of consonants. Collins has the following words: ou (an adult human male), euouae (which takes an s and means a Gregorian cadence), and euoi (an interjection expressing Bacchic frenzy).  This in addition to ae, ai, oe, and oi, which are acceptable in the small dic.

This is the first time in the history of the National Scrabble Tournament that there has been a Collins division.  A lot of the top players have moved over to Collins, though Division One has a much bigger prize pool and, arguably, more prestige: the winner gets to sashay down a runway with a crown and a bouquet of roses as thousands cheer on.

The winner may also have the chance to be interviewed on some television show or other hosted by that intellectual powerhouse, Katie Couric.

Why do some players in the United States prefer the big dic? For one thing, there are more words to learn, and if there’s anything top Scrabble players love it’s learning more words. Strategy is different as well, more complex, I think. Games played using Collins are usually higher scoring, not only because of the larger dictionary, but also because of the rules for challenging words, which I won’t go into here but which you can find at the following wiki: http://www.scrabbleplayers.org/w/How_Collins_differs. (Wiki is good in the big dic, but not in the small dic.)

Once when I was playing a Scrabble game at the Champaign club, which meets at Barnes and Noble, a disheveled and wild-eyed young man approached to look at the board.

“I once played a word for 963 points,” he said.

He was either crazy or playing Collins.

Side note: Marty won fourth place in the Collins division at the Nationals. His prize: a Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

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