Is Ru a Word?


I’m visiting my son and his family in Nome, Alaska, and what in the world do you do in Nome when it is dark and cold? Play Scrabble, of course, and I used to be a whiz, knocking off my inferior opponents with a flurry of words that only we geriatrics know. My kids dared not to challenge me because they knew their mother had a great vocabulary (English teachers do, you know) and would never lie about a word’s spelling or usage and if I said it was a word, by cracky, it was a word. No questions asked. I became the matriarch of Scrabble, and seldom, if ever, lost. My kids thought I was a genius and who would tell them different?


I haven’t played Scrabble in a while, but as a writer, my vocabulary has gotten better, not worse, and last night I sat down to whip the daylights out of my son and daughter-in-law. I knew they would be impressed with my enhanced knowledge of words that started with “J,” “Q,” or “X,” and I would retain their admiration for all these words…like qindarka (an Albanian unit of currency), or jacamar (some sort of bird), or exarch (another name for a bishop or something). I extracted these words out of my brain and my kids were in awe of my vocabulary, but after I beat the pants off them in game one, my smart aleck daughter-in-law pulled out her iPhone, found the Scrabble app, and challenged every word I played, and soon she was laughing. “No such word, Grandma,” she said time and time again. She was delighted, I could tell. I was horrified.


“What? I’ve always used “fi” for a word,” I pleaded. “When did it become not a word? The iPhone is wrong, it doesn’t know all the words that I know. I’ve always used “fi,” and no one has ever complained before. Don’t I get any leeway for being the Scrabble matriarch?”

They chorused with a resounding “NO,” and I had to hang my head in shame. How could I be wrong about a two-letter word? “Fi,” must be a word, because after all, my son had just slapped down “ru” for 21 points, as he combined it with other words on a triple word space, giving him a resounding victory over his Scrabble-loving mother.


As it turns out, since we last played, my nerdish son memorized all 86 of the English language two-letter words and can roll them off his tongue faster than Superman can fly. He says “ch” is a word, but it isn’t listed in my 1980 Official Scrabble Dictionary. Since when can you have a word without a vowel, except for “sh,” of course?


I am bewildered at how my matriarchal Scrabble status can be in question, but tonight, I’m gonna put on my Marine Corps t-shirt, lace up my Mickey Mouse boots, and hide my daughter-in-law’s iPhone. I’ll find a new and improved Scrabble app for my phone and take them on again. In the meantime, I’ll keep “kex” and” quipu” under my hat, just in case.


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