Proper Scrabble (Issue 8, January 2011)

[This article seemed appropriate for the festive season! – Ed.]

– Victorian parlour game revamped for the new word savvy generation

Every now and then the smells of Christmas unearth a warm memory from days gone by and recently, overcome by the aromas from Jackie’s festive lunch, I was transported back to an incommodious London pub and a row with my brother over whether or not ‘firkin mirkin’ was a traditional Norfolk curse or a small barrel of amusing hair pieces.

I digress. Proper scrabble is at once simpler than the game we all know as Scrabble, but also allows for subtle complexities to be added in as to render it useful to almost any teacher or group of students.


Here I will outline the basic rules and offer some extension ideas that have proved excellent in the past.

• Each person takes turns to remove and slap down a letter from the bag of scrabble tiles. (The game is more authentic if the tiles are slapped down in the style of a professional Jamaican dominos player)

• On spotting a word (a least three letters), any player yells the word to claim it, then arranges it front of them.

• More letters are removed from the bag and exposed until either another three letter word is spotted, or an existing word can be added to with a letter from the pool. To make a new word (the etymological root must always change, so no adding an ‘s’ on the end!! e.g. port to sport but not to ports).

Simple eh? But the Victorians missed a trick, too focussed on developing steampunk no doubt! Bearing in mind we will largely be using this in an educational context, in order  to keep the word the creator must incorporate the word in to a sentence related to a particular topic. ‘Impossible!’ I hear you cry. Well just try it, lateral thinking abounds in our young charges, if only they are given the opportunity.

“Never before have so many people used so many words in so many ways.”  – Anon


The winner, should you decide to have one, will be the person or team with the highest score. Alternatively credit could be given for the best incorporation of words in to the topic in hand. Proper scrabble is also an excellent postprandial diversion.

Again, scoring can be very flexible, but a good starting point is: when the game conclude (when no more words can be formed) each player removes 2 tiles from each word and counts up the remainder (this gives more credit to longer words).

Extension ideas

• Even the playing field by using teams.

• Add a rule – allow proper names, acronyms, places or technical terms.

• Scoring – at the end of the game, when all tiles are exposed and creative juices have expired, remove two tiles from each word and count up the remainder. This system rewards longer words.

Fergus Hegarty


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