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Scrabble squabble over SMS

London, Nov. 23: It is not so much Scrabble as squabble. Players of the lexicographical board game are caught up in an unseemly row over whether to allow words used in mobile telephone text messages.

Modernisers claim that shortened text phrases such as ttfn (ta ta for now), cuthen (see you then) and fwiw (for what it’s worth) should be included in Official Scrabble Words, the reference book of 160,000 permitted words.

They believe that text language is justified because it is widely used and would encourage young people to play the 72-year-old game, in which players place interlocking words on a specially designed board to score points.

Traditionalists are furious with the suggestion. They claim that to allow a mixture of distorted English and abbreviations would bring the nation’s favourite board game into disrepute.

Joseph Kollar, the chairman of the 70-strong Hythe Scrabble Club in Hampshire and a prominent “pro-text” campaigner, says that including text words would encourage more youngsters to play the game. “If these words are used every day by millions of people, we should be using them on the board,” he said. Kollar, 58, an accountant, added: “Do we want to play a game that aims for a young and exciting image or not' The future is coming: I think we should try to be part of it.”

Kollar has asked Mattel, the game’s manufacturer, to consider putting numbered tiles into the game so that players can spell out text message words such as gr8 (great) and 2mrw (tomorrow). In the meantime, he suggests that players could use blank squares for numbers. The initial reaction from Mattel was positive. The company said it was examining Kollar’s suggestion and agreed that the game was ready for a new development.

Philip Nelkon, Mattel’s promotions manager, said: “Text words are fast becoming part of the vocabulary of young people. They are good for Scrabble because they are short, and two- or three-letter words are a great way to help players to score high. We are in favour of including some text words in future official Scrabble dictionaries. As language evolves, so must the game.”

His words have prompted an angry reaction from regular players. Cindy Walker-Firth, the president of Shipley Scrabble Club in West Yorkshire, said: “I don’t mind considering text words once they have come into common usage, but we are not there yet. I would not be happy about seeing these words used on a board. Older players in particular will not like it.”

The debate was sparked in August when the word pjs — meaning pyjamas — entered the latest edition of Chambers Dictionary, the main source of officially sanctioned Scrabble words. Scrabble specialists claim it has opened the way for other lower-case, abbreviated nouns used in mobile phone text messages to enter the dictionary and be considered as legitimate Scrabble words.

If text words are to be officially allowed, then the four members of the Official Scrabble Words Project Team will have to be persuaded. At least one member of that panel is not. Allan Simmons, chairman of the Association of British Scrabble Players, said last week that he does not believe the Scrabble fraternity is ready for such a momentous change.

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