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Scrabble community bans offensive words, including racial slurs, from competitive play

North American Scrabble Players Association removes 200 words from permitted tournament spellings.

Scrabble board game tiles.
Image credit: Wokandapix/Pixabay

A prominent Scrabble organisation has banned hundreds of offensive terms from use in official tournaments in an effort to stamp out racism and inequality.

As reported by the New York Times, the North American Scrabble Players Association announced that from September 1st, more than 200 words would no longer be permitted in club and competitive play. The list includes a number of racial slurs that had previously been allowed in tournaments, including the “N word”.

The NASPA word list is separate to the official Scrabble dictionary released by publisher Hasbro, which hasn’t included terms considered to be offensive for almost 30 years following a player’s successful complaint over the inclusion of an anti-Semitic term, an argument backed by the Anti-Defamation League. The words removed from the official dictionary in 1994 included more extreme slurs and other highly offensive terms, as well as more general swear words.

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NASPA’s list of words, which features more than 192,000 legal spellings, was subsequently formed as the result of disagreement between competitive players over whether the game should forbid certain words on moral grounds - with the counter-argument from some players being that the dictionary serves as an impartial record and words in Scrabble were played purely for points, rather than meaning.

While the two lists differed, NASPA’s word list had the official support of Hasbro for use in sanctified club and tournament matches, and also served as a reference for permitted words in some online and digital versions of the game.

“I have felt for a long time that there are some words in our lexicon that we hang onto in the mistaken belief that our spelling them with tiles on a board strips them of their power to cause harm,” the association’s CEO John Chew wrote to the other 11 members of the board to propose the new ban, following a debate on the group’s Facebook page. (Thanks, Slate.)

“When we play a slur, we are declaring that our desire to score points in a word game is of more value to us than the slur's broader function as a way to oppress a group of people. I don't think that this is the time for us to be contributing divisively to the world's problems.”

Following NASPA’s decision, a Hasbro spokesperson said that the board game’s rules would also be updated “to make clear that slurs are not permissible in any form of the game”.

The move follows similar action by Wizards of the Coast, which is owned by Hasbro, to address problematic, offensive and racist aspects of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Future D&D releases will address problematic aspects of the RPG’s races and campaign books, while several Magic: The Gathering cards featuring racist imagery and text have been banned and removed from the trading card game’s online database.

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