Tuesday, May 31, 2005

That's my excuse, anyway.

Ann Althouse, in the course of a post on divorcing content from mechanics in writing and legal interpretation, refers to this John Tierney column on the surprising dominance of men in competitive Scrabble. Despite women generally being thought to have better language skills, only one woman has been Scrabble champ, apparently because men seeking victory "play in a manner that disconnects from the meaning of words" by memorizing strings of letters.

I can testify that in my case this is true. In my quest to beat Will Baude on more than a very-occasional basis, I attempted to memorize the two and three letter word lists from the Scrabble dictionary using sites like this and this, but I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to keep it up. What I like about Scrabble is the making of cool words, and if I have a chance to use five letters and make "marmoset" for twelve points or to make "ox" for twenty-five, I really want to pick the former. This is not the sole reason why I lose, but it explains my lack of motivation to memorize such boring tidbits as "em" and "en." Those are not cool words. I get far more utility out of the pleasure of seeing "fogey" or "labile" on the board than I do out of scoring points with boring words. Of course, I also get some utility from winning, but the amount of training necessary for me to beat Will with any kind of regularity would have to be accompanied by a montage and the song "Eye of the Tiger" and would suck all the joy (and free time) from my life.
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