Thursday, August 12, 2010

A fremd (indeed!) is a fremd I don't need

What does it take to be a writer?

Well, let's see.

You need to have an affinity for words and the ability to use them well.

You need to be widely read and appreciative of the great literary works that have gone before you.

And if you aim to write fiction, an ear for dialogue is certainly a must.

But there's one thing that separates the real writers from the wannabes, a certain skill without which you might as well take up clam digging or yo-yo tricks.

And that one skill, the skill that's implanted in the DNA of every dyed-in-the-wool scribe, is:

The ability to find all sorts of other things to do to put off writing.

One thing I do (you are taking notes, aren't you?) is play computer Scrabble.

And at the risk of being branded as anti-social, I will admit for the record, your honor, that I don't play computer Scrabble with other people.

I play it against the software that came with the game.

I lose more often than not (OK, OK, way more often than not), but lately I've been putting up a good fight.

But not too long ago, during the course of a game, my computerized opponent came up with the word "fremd."

Whereupon I myself came up with a few words that are not to be used in polite company, let alone on this blog.

And I began to get a mite scared.

Because I know that in some real-life Scrabble games, some players try to bluff the other players with fake words.

Was my computer foe trying to do this? And if so, if his or her mind was that devious, could he or she be trying to take over my computer? My life? The world?

If it spoke, would he/she sound like Hal from "2001"?

Just to reassure myself, I looked the word up.

And darned if I didn't find it in Merriam-Webster's unabridged dictionary, which says "fremd" means "strange, belonging to someone else, alienated." Its etymology cites Middle English and Old English roots, with a nod to Old High German.

Now you'll notice I said this was in the unabridged dictionary; M-W's regular dictionary doesn't list it at all.

Yet the Scrabble dictionary that's built into the computer Scrabble game's software -- a dictionary that won't allow "ade" (meaning, of course, as every crossword fan knows, a fruit drink, as even M-W unabridged admits) -- thinks it's fine.

The Scrabble dictionary also seems to have an affinity for Scottish words, such as "wae" and "eme." Ay, laddie, 't would surprise me none to find out that the editor of yon dictionary goeth by the name of Laird Angus Blinkbonny.

Oh well. I guess I'm going to have to give in and accept the existence of "fremd."

But I'm not a wee bit happy about it.

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