Sunday, March 2, 2008


Today’s New York Times carries a sprightly article about an Internet craze that somehow had escaped me — Scrabulous. That’s a free online version of Scrabble that seems to be taking Facebookers by storm and is angering the manufacturers of the board game as an infringement on their copyrights.

I sympathize with the manufacturers, as would any creator of intellectual content who hopes to be paid for his labors. But perhaps there is a larger issue here.

It is that young Americans may not be as postliterate as we tend to think, given the huge drop in newspaper circulation and the long slow slide in the reading of books and magazines. Scrabble was (and is) a favorite of literate folks, emphasizing the growth of vocabulary. So, it seems, is Scrabulous.

Maybe the real difference between the literacy of the young and that of the old is simply in the vehicle of reading. Let us hope so anyway.

This reminds me, as things tend to do at my advancing age, of my most vivid experience with Scrabble: a heated dispute over the legitimacy of a word.

I was 10 or 11 years old when a large and authoritative figure in my family tried to sneak “GBX” on the board. I challenged.

“It doesn’t exist!” I protested. “Look in the dictionary!” In Scrabble, you know, the dictionary is God.

“It does exist!” Large and Authoritative Figure shot back.

“Prove it!”

He stomped upstairs and came down with a book, a collection of Pogo comic strips. He sat and riffled through it until he came to the panel he wanted.

“See?” he crowed triumphantly.

In a conversation balloon in one panel Grundoon, the cute little “groun’chuck chile” who still spoke infant gibberish, cried, “Gbx!”

In our house Pogo, the font of all wisdom, trumped the dictionary.

Not for a long time did I grow out of that belief, and perhaps not entirely.

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