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What’s the good word?

I have recently begun playing Words With Friends, the online letter game that is addictive, infuriating and biblical, all at the same time.

The latter is true because success in the game seems to be driven via Matthew 7:12: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Words With Friends is nothing more than Scrabble played against an unseen opponent. Or opponents, which is part of its appeal. You can play as many games as you like simultaneously and there is no time limit to each one. Form a word, sail around the globe, return, do some laundry and make your next move. No problem. Better yet, no Uncle Vernon drumming his fingers on the game table and saying, “For cripes sake, I ain’t getting any younger here. Play a tile!”

Words With Friends received a recent notoriety boost when Alec Baldwin was kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to turn off his cellphone. Reports circulated he was playing Words With Friends, even going into the plane’s lavatory to make his next move. I don’t blame him; I often do some of my most creative thinking in the bathroom.

On a recent Friday night. I was alone in a San Antonio hotel room playing four games at once. Suffice it to say that I’m not the world’s most exciting guy when travelling on business. Sometimes I think Apple should disable all apps on weekends, thereby encouraging its millions of iPhone and iPad users to actually venture outside. Who knows? Maybe we will learn new words in the process. For example, “ennui”, defined as “a feeling of utter boredom, weariness and discontent”.

My first game was with Andrew, a fellow college alumnus. Four moves into the game, he played “trope”, acquiring 28 points due to the triple letter/double word placement on the board.

Words With Friends does not allow players to score points with profanity. Swear words are reserved for its chat feature.

“What the (naughty word) is a trope?” I typed.

“Dunno. Heard it in some discussion section in college,” came the reply.

According to Wikipedia, “trope” can mean “a literary technique, plot device, or stock character, or more generally a stereotype”.

Armed with that knowledge, I immediately negated his lead with a new word of my own: “tropes”.

“Take that (another naughty word),” I typed.

As Andrew pondered his next move, I navigated over to a game with business acquaintance Linda, who had just put the match out of reach with “qi” for 68 points. I assumed Linda suffered from dyslexia.

“I’ve heard of IQ but not in reverse,” I typed exasperated.

“It’s a word. Somebody played it on me once,” she typed.

For the record, “qi” has two meanings. The first is “the circulating life energy that in Chinese philosophy is thought to be inherent in all things”. The second is “a great word for vengeful Words With Friends players”.

This is where the Book of Matthew entered my game with Andrew. I returned and saw it was my move. Since Linda was nice enough to introduce me to qi, I decided to polish my halo and do the same to my college buddy. Seeing a “q” in my bevy (good word, eh?) of letters. I quickly played “qi” and fired off a message.

“It’s a Chinese philosophy word.”

Andrew immediately used my “q” to form “qat”. Then came the reply.

“It’s some sort of drug.”

He was right. “Qat”, often spelled “kat”, is apparently an East African shrub chewed if your goal is to get high in East Africa.

This time I didn’t type a profanity. Instead, I yelled one, loud enough to be heard by tourists visiting the Alamo.

I went zero for four that evening, humiliated by combinations of two and three-letter words that I could neither pronounce or even recognise. I’m seriously considering storming into my university’s admissions office and demanding a refund for my journalism degree. Surely one of my distinguished professors should have mentioned that words such as “zu”, “zax”, “qis” and “waqf” do exist.

But first I had better stop at church. I need forgiveness.

Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad

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