IT is a historic game, more than 80 years old, that is played around the world, with more than half of British homes said to have a set. However, all is not well in the world of Scrabble.


It’s a classic?

Scrabble’s roots go back to the Great Depression when out-of-work New York architect Alfred Mosher Butts invented the game that would go on to become Scrabble. Called Lexiko initially in 1933, it was refined to become Criss Cross Words and then, in 1938, Scrabble was officially trademarked. Butts’ aim was to offer respite during the Depression. 


Scrabble’s been a lockdown hit?

Some retailers may have struggled with lockdown life, but John Lewis reported a 39 per cent surge in Scrabble sales, as Brits tried to keep themselves occupied and entertained in the pandemic, perhaps just as Butts would have wished.



Scrabble is sold in 121 countries and is available in 29 languages, with around 150 million sets sold around the world.



It has been reported that competitive scrabble players are quitting amid "bitter spats" following the removal of hundreds of words deemed “offensive" from the game, meaning players can no longer use them in contests.


What has the response been?

Spectator columnist, Jonathan Maitland, has revealed all in his latest column, spotlighting the Scrabble fall-out, saying that “the ban on hundreds of words has left many players – particularly my fellow travellers in the London Scrabble league – seething. There have been bitter spats, ruptured friendships and high-profile resignations”. 


Such as?

He quotes Darryl Francis, a well-known author of books on Scrabble, who quit the World English-Language Scrabble Players’ Association in protest, saying: “Words in dictionaries and Scrabble lists are not slurs. They only become slurs if used with a derogatory purpose or intent or used with a particular tone and context. Words in our Scrabble lists should not be removed for PR purposes disguised as promoting some kind of social betterment.”


Words such as…?

"Lubra", which is an "outdated term for an Aboriginal women" and "bufty", apparently Scots slang for “gay”. Maitland says he and other players acknowledge that players do not "approve of any of the banned words" but "the words can't be un-invented - they are part of our shameful history and playing them in a private word game is very different from using them in any other context”.


But questions remain?

Maitland says: “The useful, high-scoring word ‘Jesuit’, for example, is now banned. As is ‘Jesuitic’, which could net you 200 points in one go. ‘Jesuit’ is defined as ‘a member of an order of priests founded by St Ignatius Loyola in 1534 to do missionary work’. Why is this offensive?”


It comes after…?

Changes to the app version of Scrabble sparked fury in 2020 when the makers, EA (Electronic Arts) announced they were no longer partners with Scrabble’s owner Hasbro and, therefore, the official computerised Scrabble game they had offered for more than a decade would be discontinued. The tranquil board of old was replaced by a lime green and hot pink board in Scrabble GO, in a game featuring treasure-style rewards and a raft of in-app purchases. One reviewer wrote then: “I don’t want flashing lights and swirling animations…I just want to play Scrabble.”