“That’s Not A Real Word” is an inversion of Scrabble that involves creation of new words. The basic rules are exactly the same as Scrabble, except that existing English words, including slang, are considered illegal. Instead one must arrange their tiles into a word that is entirely fabricated, yet pronounceable and plausible as an English word. Any word that seems questionable can be challenged and vetoed by a majority of the players.
This piece was inspired by Yoko Ono’s “White Chess” as well as Ben Vautier’s “Propositions Pour L’Art”. I felt like Vautier’s piece touched on the collaborative, gatekeeper-less and ever-changing nature of language, which prompted me to think of ways I could manipulate the English lexicon. Scrabble was an obvious base for a game centered around words, so then I sought to subvert the essence of the game by inverting mechanics like Yoko Ono had done with “White Chess”. I found that by only allowing words that are considered illegal by the standard rules, Scrabble becomes a game of content generation instead of regurgitation. It seemed natural to take the game a step further by having players give their words substance by defining them.
(I prototyped by playing Bananagrams with myself and only using made up words.)
I designed this game to be a vehicle for inside jokes and an expanded shared vocabulary between friends. While the game is competitive, I wanted the primary goal to be creation through play instead of winning. I also want the game to have a lasting impact on how the players interact with each other after the game.
Below is documentation from my first playtest. The rules for this playtest were to play a word and define it on the spot to get your points, or don’t define it and don’t get your points. To ensure that words were in fact totally original, i checked each one on Dictionary.com.
Important observations from this test were:
1. Defining became a collaborative effort and the person with the best definition was usually not the person who had played the word.
2. By the end of the game everyone’s creativity is waning.
3. The competitiveness of keeping score is at odds with the subjective nature of the game. Why try to think of a great definition when almost any will get me the same points?
4. The part of speech is important in nailing down a cohesive definition. I didn’t enforce stating the part of speech in this game; I usually let people describe a feeling they got from the word.
5. Sometimes players thought of great definitions beforehand that didn’t seem to fit their words at all.
Bive: a beer consumed as soon as you get home from class or work.
Smit: A mysterious stain or residue. Particularly around the kitchen or bathroom sink, why does no one ever clean up after themselves!?
Greel: when you’re dirty and nasty, but feel totally tuned into natural, like on a camping trip.
Lorpil: water stain on front of pants from leaning on the bathroom counter
Asuex: Reached top of everything, and you’re just better than everyone else.
Sirf: surfer with scurvy
Obowaw: an unintelligible verbal response to overwhelming surprise
Jakatee: explosive angry reaction to messing up a golf shot
Veq: spot in a car where things disappears forever.
Deagron: A violent fantasy born of frustration
Furp: fart and burp at the same time
Graih: Great and crazy
Tuein: Person you always intend to hang out with, but never actually do
Seiditza: sideburn worn exclusively for a bar mitzvah.
Sulp: Realization you just got scammed, ripped off, or played.
Nomodap: Trying to look dapper results in looking like a fool, because you don’t actually have any sense of style.
Tenry: A shade of yellow. The color of British people’s teeth.
Smitch: To bum on your friend’s couch, undignified and unwelcome
Lacone: Trying to define a word you just invented.
Fet: any crazy novelty hat worn for attention.
Yate: epiphany achieved far after it’s relevant in conversation.
Londort: an itch that seems to be a bug crawling up your leg, but is actually nothing.
The rules this time were slightly different.Everyone plays the first round without defining anything. From the second round onward, the player must define any undefined word on the board to get points for the word they played that turn.
I also made a few note cards with everyday concepts like “music”, “store”, “weather” etc. hoping that they would help players think of definitions when they got stuck.
Drit – n. bit of particulate matter in a drink that you try to not drink
Fert – v. Pacing or otherwise fidgeting while on the phone.
Zoak – n. Something gaining strength from electricity. (would be used in the context of fiction. In games particularly, shooting electronics with electricity will sometimes make them work instead of frying them to hell. “Just zoak the keycode panel to open the door”)
Riore – v. Poorly singing a song in a foreign language by trying to imitate the sounds.
Sycot – v. Overthink a minor purchase (eg. Which grape jelly should I get)
Jev – v. To tap out a song playing in your head. The rhythm makes total sense to you but is unidentifiable to anyone else.
Waroos – n. The person who takes up the bathroom at a party because he/she is throwing up.
Troxy – adj. So engrossed in headphone music that you lose awareness of your surroundings, like people trying to talk to you.
Goehni – n. Spent, old gum on the underside of desk or on street.
Quine – v. Short responses that convey no meaning but assume the other party knows what you’re talking about.
This game doesn’t work if you’re trying to win. I’m sure there are more changes I could make to encourage more creative definitions, but on a basic level the game has met my goals really well. I play-tested with my roommates and a handful of words have seen consistent use among us, like “bive”, and “smit”. Some of my favorite words include “greel”, “drit”, “jev”, “obowaw” and “lorpil”.
Final Rule Set
Materials: Scrabble board, set of brainstorming cards, dictionary.
For 2-4 players. Basic Scrabble rules apply, except that players must use their letter tiles to form words that are not part of the “official” English language or slang that is recognized by another player. A physical dictionary or a word reference website should be kept on hand for checking words. Any word that is recognized as an existing word or is grossly implausible as an English word can be challenged and overruled if at least half the players support the challenge.
During the first round of the game, players play words and end their turn immediately with no points awarded. From the second round onward, each player must play a word was well as define a currently undefined word on the board in order to receive points for their their play. A player may choose to not define any word and forfeit their points from that round. Brainstorming cards should be referenced to help generate ideas. Lame definitions can be challenged in the same way as played words.
The player with the most points at the end wins. But really everyone wins because they all have at least a couple new words to use.