Word of the Week: ‘Za’

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Word of the Week: ‘Za’

I have read my Kirk and Hayek and Buckley, in What is a Conservative?, and I have had the good fortune to know some great conservative thinkers. I recently read the excellent The Right, an unmissable history by Matthew Continetti of the American Enterprise Institute. Of course, I love Chesterton. But in some basic sense, I would struggle to tell you exactly what a conservative is in America, other than someone who is not a liberal. The modern conservative tradition, in the world-historic sense following the American and French revolutions, can count as its founder Edmund Burke, who was once the head of the philosophy department in Ireland where I studied in undergrad. I have read his work, too, and in parts cherished it. But it seems to me in the European context that, when the word was coined, it had a pretty specific meaning. A “conservative” was someone dedicated to conserving the power of the institutions of the monarchy and the church in the life of the culture and the state. Here in this brilliantly revolutionary republic, we officially disallow those things in the state while we accept it as the main idea that will flourish in our culture. It makes for some confusion.

People certainly tell me I am a conservative sometimes, which may be one answer to the question, “What is a conservative?” (Though in some parts of the country, people tell me I am a lib[eral].) To listen to my old friends in Manhattan or my old colleagues at left-wing magazines, I am certainly not in the liberal tribe in any good standing. Puzzling over this, I could look into deep philosophical or personal characterological background. But last week, I think I found one good argument for my being a conservative, besides that it’s very important to me to say “my being” rather than “me being,” because a gerund (a word ending in -ing) is a noun that takes a possessive. That is, I read the new additions to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, and to quote National Review’s famous mission statement, it sure seemed like it was time to “stand athwart history yelling Stop.”

Namely, when you take out your Scrabble board, you are now allowed to use such barbarisms as “convo,” “bae,” “vibed,” and, worst of all, “inspo.” You can now play “vaxx” and, for some reason, “jedi.” Meanwhile, its dictionary some editions ago took out 167 playable words, primarily slurs, including “shiksa.” As the product of an assimilated Jewish father and a goyishe mother, this is erasure.

Scrabble is a crossword game that should maintain a certain propriety, though its dictionary need not be so descriptivist as to leave out any slang or any silliness. That silliness should just have a, let’s call it, Scrabbliness to it. The editors’ decisions should be about the gameplay and the word usage, not the words’ morality or their coolness circa the current year. My biggest gripe with the set of two-letter words for those of us who memorize that set of extremely useful couplets allowed in Scrabble is that the list omits “co,” a common term that one can find all over the urban environment. It makes the letter C a pain.

And it’s OK to adapt to gameplay dynamics and modernity, to some degree. For many editions now, the Dictionary has allowed such strange words as “za” and “xi,” clearly not because they are in common usage but rather because it is hard to get the letters X and Z on the board. (For reference, “za” is pizza and “xi” is like chi, a Chinese spiritual life force present in the whole universe, likely the influence for “the Force” in Star Wars.) But that’s not what these new additions, numbering over 500, are about.

So, what gives? Scrabble owner Hasbro has been doing stunts such as this for a few generations of its dictionary’s updates now in order to, supposedly, draw in children whom they picture to be so enthralled with lingo that these same children are going to put down TikTok and pick up an hourlong board game just for the novelty of playing a webspeak word. This is childish. Keep the old-souled stuff for the old souls, I say. Play Scrabble in a wood-paneled room with a cigar and something aged more than 10 years. You can buy the last good Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, the 4th edition, online or in print, and play with that, to respect tradition. And see? I guess I do sound like a conservative.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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