Saturday, 17 September 2011


05:40:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 13 comments

By Ashley Lister

It’s difficult to place a value on some words.

Obviously, Scrabble words are easy enough to value. The highest scoring Scrabble word played in an official tournament was QUIXOTRY. (QUIXOTRY means a rash and impractical act). Because QUIXOTRY was played across two triple word squares (the R was already in place) it earned the player a staggering 365 points.

But who, aside from championship level Scrabble players, uses the word QUIXOTRY? Whilst Scrabble players might rank it as the most valuable word to have yet existed, most of us would honestly admit to having never used it, and to having no intention of using it – unless we happened to forget life could be interesting and worth living and we went off to participate in an official Scrabble tournament.

Scrabble scores are probably not the best way to value words. Scrabble values would make YOU (6) more important than ME (4), and DOGS (6) and CATS (6) less valuable than HUMANS (11), and LOVE (7) less important than MONEY (10). Whilst it’s interesting to note that both LOVE (7) and HATE (7) score the same in Scrabble, these values remain a poor way to grade words in the real world.

I’ve recently been reading Lynn Truss’s Talk to the Hand. In this book Truss approaches the absence of manners with the same vehemence with which she approached an absence of punctuation in Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It’s a passionate and enthusiastic read.

The book starts with a chapter entitled ‘Was that so hard to say?’ and focuses on the politeness words such as please and thank you and sorry. I think it’s safe to say that these words are some of the most valuable ones in any person’s vocabulary. Whilst Truss, makes this point in her usual eloquent and forthright style, my favourite anecdote in the book concerns Janet Street-Porter:

…Janet Street-Porter, who, while filming a documentary about modern education last year, tried to prompt the children at a school assembly to grasp the importance of apology. “Children,” she said, “in every family home, there’s a word which people find it really hard to say to say to each other. It ends in ‘y’. Can anyone tell me what it is?” There was a pause while everyone racked their brains, and then someone called out, “Buggery?”’

Truss, L., (2005: 45), Talk to the Hand, Profile Books Ltd, London.

To me, that’s priceless.



Lara Clayton said...

Really liked the inclusion of Scrabble in this post - very clever.
I haven't read Lynn Truss's new book, but loved 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves', and definitely now want to read 'Talk to the Hand'.
Great post!

Ste said...

I second Lara's comment - loved the Scrabble angle. I'm still to read 'Eats, shoots and leaves'. 'Talk to the Hand' might be right up my alley though. There's nothing that annoys me more than some scrat barging into my office to say 'Where's Gerry?' Somehow I never pull them up over the lack of an 'excuse me' or a ' could you tell me' I shall have to add it to the list. Top post - it's been a good week for them!

Ste said...

Ha! I only just noticed the picture! Me likey! :D

Anonymous said...


I don't know if TTTH is disheartening or affirming but I do know it's a lot of fun. The history of manners in relation to spitting is absorbing.


Anonymous said...


Eats Shoots and Leaves justifies every punctuation rant you've ever wanted to make. You have to buy a copy.


vicky ellis said...

Well I agree with Scrabble on a couple of its valuations which probably makes me a psychopath.

I'm a little torn on the politeness angle. While I do use it myself and appreciate it in others, I also feel, in a very cynical way, that it is merely a tool for negotiation in getting what you want - a way our culture has decided we must behave to get others 'on side' and manipulate their responses. I've got a grudging admiration for people who just come out and say what they want with no regard for how it affects those around them. I like to have the chance to react to someone's thoughts without having to negotiate the sentinels of politeness. It's not always appropriate, but when it's possible it's a great feeling.

Well done for the inclusion of 'buggery' too :) Obviously a fab post.

Lindsay said...

It ate my comment. I hope it was tasty, damn you blog-monster! That's another book on my 'to read' list which is bankrupting me. I love the janet Street-Porter quote, hilarious. Great post Ash.

Anonymous said...


I like politeness. It's a reminder that you're dealing with civilised people rather than unwashed muggles. I take your point about the honesty of an exchange without these strategies, but I still prefer to deal with those who are polite enough to consider the feelings of others.

I've just watched a young man walk down the street, hands in his pockets, yawning without covering his mouth. I wanted to shout at him and tell him his behaviour was rude and that I had no desire to see the inside of his mouth or to watch him playing pocket pool.

Then, I realised, he had made me feel like an old fart for wanting to express such thoughts so, one way or another, he needs to apologise.


Anonymous said...


I'll try to remember my copy on Friday - that way you, Lara and Ste can fight for a borrow :-)


MoonJumpingCow said...

Great post as always, Ash.


Ashley R Lister said...

Thanks Lisa :-)


Adrian said...

Thanks Ashley. As ever I thoroughly enjoyed reading your clever & witty piece.

Ashley R Lister said...


It's great to see you on here. Thanks for the kind words.