Monday, December 24, 2007

Dear readers

I rise early this morning not because I've been visited by three ghosts in the night but because I was visited by one small child who had too much Christmas candy last night before bedtime. His ghosts were handily conquered by a few words from dad and mom, and he easily fell back asleep. No such luxury for me, and the anticipated sleeping-in on a day off from work has been cancelled.

My wife gave me a Christmas present early which I must share. What do James Wigderson, Senator Ted Kennedy and Charlton Heston have in common? All three of us have our correspondence with William F. Buckley, Jr published in his new book, Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription: Notes & Asides from National Review. Since I do not like to skip ahead in books I am using this morning of quiet to read as quickly as possible to page 254. (I am listed forever in the index on page 294 between Richard Whyte and Oscar Wilde.) The book is a collection of Buckley's feature in National Review, and the thought occurred to me just the other day that my letter concerning a Scrabble dilemma might appear. With luck, it did:

January 25, 1999
Dear Mr. Buckley:

Two longtime readers of yours are locked in a longtime dispute it appears only you may be able to resolve, given your authority in the area concerned.

One of my closest friends is married to a very competitive Scrabble player. Unfortunately, the concept of a "friendly competition" is lost shortly after she draws her first set of tiles. She told me how she ruined a friendship over a game. It seems her opponent played "whiter" for big points, prompting her to protest. How could there possibly be a word like "whiter" when white is the absence of color? He found the word in the Scrabble dictionary, and they resumed play, though she refused to drop the matter of the inappropriateness of the word "whiter." Shortly after, she played "jader." Her opponent challenged, and the word was not found in the Scrabble dictionary. She argued if "whiter" was a word, surely "jader" was. He asked her to use it in a sentence, "The dress was jader than the last one she tried on." he refused to let her play the word, and in anger she threw the board at him. He stormed out of the room. He sent her a present a couple of weeks later with a note: "You were right, I was wrong." She opened the wrapping to find a new Scrabble dictionary. Opening the book to "J" she found handwritten in blue ink, "jader: a word commonly used to cheat at Scrabble." In the interest of harmony among conservatives who happen to be avid Scrabble players, I'm asking you to adjudicate:
1. Is "whiter" a word?
2. Is "jader" a word?
3. Do I dare play Scrabble with either person? Should I have a lawyer or a psychiatrist present?

James M. D. Wigderson
[then] Franklin, Wis.

Dear Mr. Wigderson: You have very combative friends! And they are ingenious in the ways of retaliation. But inasmuch as, in this situation, the buck stops here, herewith my finding:

Yes on whiter. Adj. white, whiter, whitest.

No on jader, jade being N. a mineral, most often greenish in color. A lot of nouns can be used as adjectives, but don't let themselves go into the comparative and the superlative. "His kangaroo posture made him fragile" - okay; but not, "His posture was kangarooer than Jim's." Cordially, WFB
Unfortunately, that was not the final word, as in further correspondence in the magazine "jader" proved to be acceptable as someone who jades, or causes someone to be jaded. Perhaps in the next collection.

Find classic movies at