Dizzy on the Syzgy

-A A +A
By John Severance

If you’re a triskaidekaphobic or paraskevidekatriaphobic, there is little chance you are reading this. You’re more likely hiding under your bed, covering in fear because today is Friday the 13th. Yeah, well, everyone needs a hobby. Having an irrational fear of numbers or dates is as good as anything, I guess.
I have to admit that I suffer from coulrophobia, a fear of clowns. Well, that’s not exactly true. Actually, I’m afraid of a clown chasing me with a chainsaw while I’m wearing oversized swimming flippers.
But Friday the 13th holds a special meaning this month (other than the ultimate fear of being chased by 13 clowns all armed with chainsaws). April 13th is Scrabble Day!
Ah yes, yet another chance for someone out there with logophobia (fear of words) to scream out in terror, “JKQVVXZ? What can I spell with these letters?!”
But Scrabble is more than an otiose game of word salad. It’s a tradition, or more like an addiction for doctiloquent fans of the game now celebrating its 74th year. Yes, Scrabble is a septuagenarian (a word only valued at 17 points without any double or triple scores).  Alfred Mosher Butts created the game back in 1938 and those unassuming little wooden tiles have since entertained, delighted and confounded countless players.
With seven random letters staring back at you, what words can you form? If you’re like me, you probably tremble at the thought of drawing a J, X or V. It’s bad enough trying to deal with Sanskrit-like letters without having to find a word that uses a Z and six E’s.
How many of you know all 101 2-letter words acceptable in Scrabble? Or even most of the 1015 3-letter words? How about adz, aff, cru, cwm, dak, jee, jin, haj, igg, myc, oxo, pyx, qat, raj, sha, ska, suq, taj, urb, vav, wye, yod, zax, or zuz?
OK then, maybe cat and dog?
Aficionados of Scrabble come accoutered with a bevy of strange words by which to manumit themselves of exigent letters like J, X or Q. Any reasonable prepared player should know words like qadi (a Muslim judge), gadje (a fellow), jagra (a state of consciousness), slojd (a Swedish training system), cylix (a drinking vessel), jeux (games), moxa (a Chinese plant), qoph (19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet), or umiaq (an Eskimo boat).
Well, call me Mr. Unreasonable! I’m lucky to lay down a two syllable word. My favorite “power play” is to put an “S” after some word my wife plays before me (like chateau). But then she’ll inform me that “chateaus” isn’t a word and I end up using it on dog or cat. Then she lays an “x” to pluralize it (chateaux).
Serves me right for marrying an intelligent woman.
Being able to construct obscure words like “pschent” or “wedeln” is in itself quite a feat, but the real thrill in Scrabble is to get a “bingo,” a slang term used in Scrabble when a player uses all seven of their letters in a single play. In addition to the word’s value, a 50 point bonus is added. And you get to taunt the other player, “In your regio facialis!”
But ultimately, augmenting one’s vocabulary with aberrant words is the real key to winning Scrabble. As the old saying goes, why use a small word when a diminutive one will suffice? Go on, flex your facund confabulations with some truly abstruse whatchamacallits.
A jaseran is a finely woven chain mail jacket. Khaddar is homespun cotton cloth. A xyster is used by a surgeon to scrap bones. Smaragd means having the color of emeralds. A quoll is a cat-like marsupial. A hexeris is a galley with six rows of oars. A fovea is a depression or pit.
These are, of course, words you use every day. Good afternoon, Mrs. Thompson! I can foretell the frigeferous future from the flabellation of your feak from today’s foehn!
Gee, I wonder why the Thompsons never invite us over for a visit?
So go on, celebrate Scabble Day! Let’s play! What letters do you have there? VVKKUUU?
 Um, how about a nice game of chess?
John Pawlak
Los Alamos Columnist