Do I have to spell it out for you?

Two weeks ago, I played my first – and last – game of Words With Friends against a fellow journalist.

GrudoGideon Grudo is a former editor at the student newspaper I advise at Florida Atlantic University. He’s now managing editor of Florida’s largest gay publication, which is only a few miles away.

So I know him well. And I know he doesn’t know words like anta, which he plunked down early in our game.

I texted him, “Anta? Seriously?”

“Anta is an architectural term defining posts, or some such,” he texted me back. “Learn something new everyday.”

(But not, apparently, that everyday should be every day in this usage.)

Gideon quickly followed up with khat (a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa) and jee (a variant of gee, for the letter g).

The big differences...Obviously, Gideon just dragged those letters onto the board to see what Words With Friends would accept.

Of course, he could’ve simply typed those letters into one of the many websites that’ll spit out obscure words for you. But I don’t believe Gideon is that ambitious.

Either way, playing Words With Friends is like playing chess against your computer and tapping “undo” whenever you make a stupid move. To wit…

You can tell yourself you’re learning something new “everyday,” but those lessons aren’t seared into your brain as if you made the same stupid move in front of a human being who immediately burns you for it – and perhaps gloats afterward.

Words With Friends is bad enough for average folks. But for journalists, it’s worse.

Making enemies of Words With Friends

This is my 15th year advising college journalists, and I’ve seen many fail because they had skill but no spine. You can’t succeed in this field if you fear having to issue a correction every now and again.

Words With Friends teaches journalists nothing. Scrabble, on the other hand, teaches them nerve.

Like poker, you can bluff in Scrabble: Lay down a bunch of letters that don’t spell a real word, and your opponent can challenge you. If he’s right, you lose a turn. But if he’s wrong, he loses a turn. And you can’t use a dictionary or a smartphone until the challenge is issued. Till that moment, you’re on your own.

X marks the spot...I’m not the only journalist who values Scrabble over its diluted and distorted impersonator. Next weekend, SPJ South Florida hosts a free event called FWWF – short for F@%# Words With Friends.

If you’re in South Florida on Saturday afternoon, join them for Speed Team Scrabble, which pits two people at one tray, with a tight deadline of 30 seconds to lay down each word. SPJ will provide the Scrabble boards, referees, dictionaries, pizza, and craft beer. The winning duo receives a pair of $10 Amazon gift certificates.

Changing the world, one tile at a time

If you share SPJ South Florida’s outrage over the dumbing down of America’s word games, I implore you to sign our online petition demanding that Zygna, the creator of Words With Friends, allows players to butch up and…

• set a time limit of 60 seconds to make a move.
• disable the sissy function that reveals if you’re placing a real or fake word.
• issue Scrabble-like challenges of real consequence.

Together, we can change the word...We just want the option to play like thinking adults. Let the mindless masses keep their computer-assisted amusement that requires all the brain calories of tic-tac-toe. But give us something that truly embraces the can-do spirit that made this country great.

George Washington didn’t have GPS when he crossed the Delaware. Lincoln didn’t have spell-check when he wrote the Gettysburg Address. Is it too much to ask for a little personal responsibility in our word games?

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


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