Breaking news: Scrabble to allow proper nouns

Well, I am really torn about this one.

Mattel has announced that the new Scrabble rules, out in July, will allow ... sigh... proper nouns. On the one hand, change is inevitable, and I'm generally in favor of increased laxity in prescriptive grammar rules. On the other hand, as I've written before, Scrabble is a game, and as such, has to have an arbitrary set of rules designed to govern it in the way that makes it most pleasant to play.

That arbitrary rule set is based on the dictionary, which is a nice leveler. In theory, everyone could have the same access to the dictionary, and it provides arbitration on questions of spelling, pluralization, etc. Proper nouns generally don't have such an authority. For example, how is Al Qaeda spelled? Each large newspaper has determined a set spelling, but there are several different accepted versions. Is it one word or two? Is it disallowed because it's transliterated? Or because it is a foreign word? What proper noun isn't, ultimately, a foreign word?!

Granted, I haven't seen the new rules yet. Maybe Mattel has a way of resolving these looming arguments, but I'm having trouble imagining how such questions could be easily settled about proper nouns.

So it appears I've come down on the side of 'shocked and appalled'. If meaning is use, then maybe by continuing to use the old rules, we can maintain their legitimacy.

1 comment:

jpbenney said...

This is a serious shock to me.

Though I have not played Scrabble for a long time - I used to play with my mother and brother during holidays - I am shocked that Scrabble would do something like that!

The problem as I see it is that if proper nouns are allowed, it will lead to further relaxation of the rules. Even in nations where English is the official language, many proper nouns are really words in native languages that are mostly extinct. It is unacceptable that such words should be regarded as English, but I am sure that such will be the outcome if Scrabble changes the rules.

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