The seven-letter word explains just where the Scrabble world has found itself as some words become too volatile for even Scrabble to use, according to Reuters.
Front and center is the so-called “N-word,” the saying of which is often equated with a “hate crime” in some jurisdictions.
The North American Scrabble Players Association has been debating how to best police the use of racist and homophobic terms in what is a collision with long-standing tradition, according to NASPA chief executive John Chew.
“We are told when we get for the first time to a Scrabble club or tournament that words have no meaning on a Scrabble board. Most people accept that without question,” he told Reuters.
But life is changing.
“Some people find they cannot accept … the ‘N-word’ being treated as though it has no meaning,” said Chew, who is Canadian. “Those people end up not being part of our community, which is the fundamental problem we’re trying to address.”
A decision on the matter was made this week by Hasbro, which has the rights to the game in North America.
Hasbro said in a news release Wednesday that the players association had “agreed to remove all slurs from their word list for Scrabble tournament play, which is managed solely by NASPA and available only to members.”
And Hasbro said it would amend the game’s official rules “to make clear that slurs are not permissible in any form of the game.”
“It is the right thing to do,” Chew added to The The New York Times.
“As people have said across the spectrum of responses, removing slurs is the very least that we can do to make our association more inclusive. I will be reaching out to the community with suggestions and for suggestions in coming months, and look forward to working with everyone to make our community a larger and happier one,” he said in a statement.
About 15,000 people in North America play competitive Scrabble, Chew said. Millions more play the game for fun.
“The game that Hasbro sells in retail stores has not included slurs in its dictionary since 1994. But the players association, one of the most prominent governing bodies in competitive Scrabble, had still allowed them. The agreement could also affect what words may be played in online versions of the game,” The Times reported.
“Technically, Hasbro has no control over the 192,111 playable words on the word list used by the players’ association, but it does license the organization to use the name Scrabble, and it is not eager to see slurs associated with its brand.”
The World English Language Scrabble Players Association, meanwhile, is in talks with Collins, which publishes its official dictionary, over whether to remove racial slurs.
“These are terrible words and you don’t want people coming in to be exposed to them if necessary,” WESPA chairman Chris Lipe told Reuters.
However, he noted that some say banning words is an artificial approach that ignores the real problem.
“There are real issues about diversity and representation within the Scrabble community and they mainly have to do with issues in society,” said Lipe, an American. “Removing words from the word list doesn’t actually address any of those issues.”
Nigerian Scrabble player Wellington Jighere, the 2015 world champion, said a word remains only a word.
“It’s just a word. Playing it on the board doesn’t mean that the person is being offensive,” he told Reuters.
But Josephine Flowers, also a competitive Scrabble player, said use of the N-word was troubling.
“You could be sitting there for a 45-minute game just looking at that word,” she told The Times.
“And if you don’t know the person who played it, then you wonder, was it put down as a slight, or was it the first word that came to their mind?”
Chew said some action was necessary.
“When people are dying in the streets over racial tensions and this word still has so much power,” he added to The Times, “you have to tell yourself this is just a game we are playing and we have to do what we can to make things right, just in our little corner of the world.”
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