Keeping Scrabble Safe for Schoolkids?
Miss Poubelle was out playing Scrabble with the church ladies the other night when she was fortunate enough to draw the Q. As all Scrabble players know, the Q and Z tiles are worth
10 points each, and playing them in a good position on the board can often be the key to winning the game.
The difficulty of Q is that it almost always needs a U to spell a legal Scrabble word (the few exceptions being
QAT, a kind of psychoactive leaf chewed in Somalia, and
QI, an alternate spelling of the life energy hypothesized by Chinese medicine). It often seems that the Q sits lonely and waiting for several rounds till one is lucky enough to get a U, but in this game,
Blanche already had a U and an I ready to go. Looking a the board, she spotted an M near a double word space, and played
QUIM, for a cool 28 points.
For gentle readers unacquainted with
quim, it is a not very genteel term for the vagina.
Quim is first firmly attested in 1735: "Tho' her Hands they are red, and her Bubbies are
coarse, Her Quim, for all that, may be never the worse."
Quim continues to this day as a somewhat infrequent term, and like
pussy or cunt, it can also be used in a somewhat insulting way to refer to women, either individually or
collectively. A 1974 quote from a Toronto publication rings as true today as it no doubt did then: "The key to success in this contest is a flashy car; and if the car is both expensive and impressive
'you have to beat the quim off with a hockey stick.'"
The etymology of quim is somewhat unsure. The
Oxford English Dictionary suggests a connection with an obsolete or dialectal word
queme, which means "pleasing,
Miss Poubelle expounded upon the meanings and etymology to the assembled gray-haired Unitarians. The church ladies were nonplussed. Most had never heard of
quim, and so of course the dictionary had to be consulted. But which dictionary? Asking serious Scrabble players about exactly which dictionary is to be used is like asking Christians about various rival versions
of the Nicene Creed.
Playing Scrabble differs in one significant respect from playing some other game like poker, bridge, backgammon, or chess. Scrabble is actually owned by the company that
produces the game-- Hasbro (in the US, at least). As the owner, Hasbro gets to set the rules, and these rules include issues of what words are allowable.
At one point, pretty much any word listed in the dictionary was considered valid (so long as it is not hyphenated, capitalized, contracted, or foreign). However, disputes over
words found in one dictionary but not in another eventually led to the publication of the
Official scrabble® Players Dictionary,
published by Merriam-Webster.
Early versions of this dictionary contained a full range of sexual and potentially offensive words, and Merriam-Webster was eventually prevailed upon to remove them from the
3rd edition. Among the words removed were ass-hole, blowjob, cunt, faggy, fart, fatso, goy, jew, lezzie,
piss, shit, and squaw. Merriam-Webster's stated motivation for removing the terms
is that they wanted to promote the playing of Scrabble among schoolchildren! (Perhaps they also had nuns, the Amish, and Jerry Falwell in mind.)
Scrabble players rebelled en masse from having their play censored in this lily-livered way, and now the official word list of the National Scrabble Association is an odd combination
of the 3rd edition of the dictionary plus all the offensive words that were expurgated from the 2nd edition. Confused?
Well even with this proviso, it turned out that
quim was not in the 3rd edition, and was not on the expurgated list, and by the peculiar rules of Scrabble, that means it is not an
allowed word, even though it gets 1.9 million hits on Google. That is probably because the editors of the various dictionaries that the official Scrabble list is based on were themselves too
squeamish to include the word.
So Blanche was shame-facedly forced to slide her
quim off the table, grumbling the whole time about the blatant Puritanism of a game that doesn't allow her to use the full range of
her sexual vocabulary. She would hardly equate inability to use her
quim as equivalent to being forced to wear the veil. But for that blazing moment, Miss Poubelle keenly felt the
lexicographic oppression and pledged herself anew to fighting those who would edit the dictionary to fit their notions of propriety.
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