These Sports Terms Should Be Playable in Scrabble

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March 18 2014 12:58 PM

These Sports Terms Should Be Playable in Scrabble

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French midfielder Zinedine Zidane headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup.

Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

On the March 17 edition of the Hang Up and Listen podcast, Stefan Fatsis discussed sports words that should be added to the Scrabble dictionary. An adapted transcript of the audio recording is below, or you can listen to the story by clicking on the audio player beneath this paragraph.

Stefan Fatsis Stefan Fatsis

Stefan Fatsis is the author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic, a regular guest on NPR's All Things Considered, and a panelist on Slate's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. Email him at sfatsis9@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

As I wrote on Slate last week, Scrabble owner Hasbro Inc. is letting the public choose a word to add to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. My top seed for the 16-word bracket is ew, with zen on the two line. But of the hundreds of nominations Hasbro has received on Facebook, I noticed just one sports-related word that isn't currently playable in Scrabble in North America, the very timely seedings.

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It's possible that seedings is in fact among the 5,000 new words, culled from three college dictionaries, that will be added to the OSPD in August by publisher Merriam-Webster Inc. But the final list hasn't been released, so here are some nominees for sports words currently unplayable in Scrabble that should be made legit.

Onsides. I know, I know: The word is onside. But, rightly or wrongly, people say and write onsides. So, to borrow from March Madness parlance, it's got a good strength of usage. Plus, OFFSIDES is already acceptable. (Style note: Scrabble players denote words in uppercase.) Why the discrepancy between on- and off-? The OSPD lists ONSIDE as an adjective only, while OFFSIDE is listed as a noun.

BUTTHEAD is acceptable in Scrabble, but its reverse compound is not. Wikipedia likes headbutt as one word, as does Dictionary.com. When Alan Pardew, the manager of Newcastle United of England's Premier League, was suspended recently for headbutting a player on another team, the BBC and many others reported the infraction without a hyphen. And let's not forget Zinedine Zidane. Lots of cachet in the one-word headbutt.

I talked about the hockey term slewfoot on Hang Up and Listen in December. Great meaning, interesting etymology, noun and verb forms. Strong, versatile word.

Capology/capologist (the study of salary caps/an executive who manages one) and bracketology/bracketologist (the study of March Madness brackets/Joe Lunardi). These would be great extensions in Scrabble for the words CAP, RACKET, and BRACKET. And while, yes, they are annoying and overused neologisms, this isn't about liking words, it's about sanctioning them. The -ologies have stood the test of time. Bonus: One of the longest acceptable words containing the letters in bracketologist is BOOTLICKERS.

The past-its-prime smashmouth will enter the Scrabble lexicon this summer. But some other football terms deserve in as well. Decleat, meaning to knock an opponent off his feet, and its nounal form decleater; flexbone, a type of offense; and slobberknocker, for a hard hit. Slobberknocker would never in a million games get played in Scrabble. But if it did—especially if pluralized for a corner-to-corner, 15-letter word? Wow.

Football's OUTKICK is good. Basketball's kickout, however, is not. Another hoops word whose time has come is posterize, as in, "Remember when Vince Carter posterized Frederic Weis at the Olympics?" The word also is an excellent extension for POSTER, and an even better extension for po (a chamberpot), which will be joining the Scrabble party. Plus, posterize has an anagram, POETIZERS.

From soccer, let's add backheel, (a kind of pass or, incredibly last week in Jordan, shot), and libero (a sweeper). Vuvuzela would be handy when you've got two Us, two Vs, and a Z, which is never. When you have one U and one V, which is all-too frequently, I submit curva, an Italian term for the curved area of the stands where passionate fans often sit.

I'll be shocked if threepeat hasn't made one of the source dictionaries—Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition; the Oxford College Dictionary, 2nd edition; and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd edition—used for this Scrabble update. Faceplant also should have ample lexicographic citations by now. Stathead too.

Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer suggests several baseball terms. Gyroball had a short, mysterious, overblown life as the secret pitch of Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka. Hitterish has been attributed all the way back to Babe Ruth. (If you remove an H you get SHITTIER, which isn't in the OSPD because it's an offensive term but is playable in club and tournament Scrabble, which allows a set of words—known as the Poo List—banned from the over-the-counter dictionary in the 1990s).

Zimmer also offers eephus, junkball, ribbie, and squibber. An S-A-B-R front-hook for METRICS is overdue. As are the one-word adjectives leftfield, rightfield, and centerfield, and their nounal -ER extensions. Loogy, an acronym for Lefty One Out GuY, deserves a spot in the lexical lineup. As does its homonym, loogie, the viscous ball of expectorant released by many a ballplayer, possibly derived from Lou Gehrig's name (though that seems dubious).

If I had to pick one new sports word to add to Scrabble, it would be another baseball stat term: VORP. The word is a robust 13 years old. It's a five-tool word (very toolsy): It's short, it dumps a V, it helps clean up a bad rack, it scores well, and it would get played. Yes, it's an acronym—Value Over Replacement Player—but it's pronounceable, like SCUBA and AWOL. So let's make the caps optional and fast-track it. Vorp, everyone. Everyone, vorp.