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Scrabble ban on racial slurs angers top players

Barney Davis
·3-min read
<p>Scrabble owners implied Black Lives Matters inspired the changes</p> (Getty)

Scrabble owners implied Black Lives Matters inspired the changes


Scrabble has banned racial slurs from scoring points on the family favourite board game — to the ire of libertarians and scrabble players.

In total, over 400 dictionary defined terms have vanished from the game after one of Scrabble’s owners, Mattel, said there are no other games where players “can win by using a racial epithet”.

There is no one list of the banned terms, but online Scrabble check websites allow players to type in a word to see if it can be played.

Various slurs against black, Pakistani, Irish and white people have been axed but some offensive terms against Australian aboriginal communities are still valid, according to one campaigner.

British author Darryl Francis resigned from the World English-Language Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) because he said Mattel had forced the changes on the game.

“Words listed in dictionaries and Scrabble lists are not slurs,” Mr Francis wrote in The Times.

“They only become slurs when used with a derogatory purpose or intent, or used with a particular tone and in a particular context.

“Words in our familiar Scrabble word lists should not be removed because of a PR purpose disguised as promoting some kind of social betterment.”

Mattel has been open that the changes were being made because of recent global movements, such as Black Lives Matter.

“We looked at some of the social unrest that’s going on globally. I’ve heard the argument that these are just words, but we believe they have meaning,” Mattel’s global head of games told The Times.

“Can you imagine any other game where you can score points and win by using a racial epithet? It’s long overdue.”

However, many terms that would be considered offensive are still allowed in the game. That’s often because a benign word has taken on a secondary definition as a slur.

American Conservatives were outraged after Hasbro dropped the ‘Mr’ from the Mr Potato Head brand earlier this year in order to “promote equality and inclusion”, while Mattel, which also produces Barbie, released a range of gender-neutral dolls in 2019.

Scrabble words, that reflect the mood of the nation as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown easesvia REUTERS
Scrabble words, that reflect the mood of the nation as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown easesvia REUTERS

It came as some of Britain’s favourite words were projected onto buildings around London to mark the easing of lockdown restrictions and National Scrabble Day on Tuesday.

Words like “freedom”, “hope”, “family” and “beer” to represent the mood of the nation were beamed in the style of the game’s letter tiles onto a pub, shops and locations near landmarks such as the Harrods department store and the Shard skyscraper.

“Scrabble is projecting the nation’s favourite words to coincide with the lockdown lifting in the UK and National Scrabble Day,” said company spokeswoman Amarilis Whitty.

Scrabble commissioned a survey to find the words that best summed up people’s feelings as months of lockdown began to be eased on Monday.

The game that would eventually be called Scrabble was invented in New York by Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed architect, during the Depression. National Scrabble Day is celebrated on his birthday.

Scrabble said lockdown had boosted sales of the game in Britain by 51.2 per cent in 2020.

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