Is That A Word? by David Bukszpan (book review)

The bane of any Science Fiction writer is coming up with new words, be it for character or location names or something just a little off-beat that the reader might feel familiar with but can’t quite place. Unless you’re a linguist or have a great love of wandering through dictionaries, keeping an eye out for books of unusual words, including their meanings, is a must. This book, ‘Is That A Word?’, is specifically designed to help the Scrabble player and as, undoubtedly, some of you reading here play the odd game, then this book fulfils a dual role by not only telling you the word but also what it means.

Author David Bukszpan details the history of Scrabble first and its many forms. There is even a ‘Star Trek’ version where you get extra points if you can use key words from the show. As he also points out, these words, with the likes of the word ‘Sulu’ (a Fijian uni-sex skirt), have meaning beyond being nouns so would probably be valid in a standard game.

It’s interesting to note that there is even a Braille version but rather puzzling no reference is made to foreign language versions. Does Scrabble only sold in English? I mean, would a Welsh version of Scramble have more consonants than vowels? If you’ve only played the standard version, then there are other variants that might make you want to explore them, including one with a super-size board. Oddly, when I used to play Scrabble with my late Mum, we never played with only changing some of the tiles. Then again, if a challenged word was lost, a different word was the first option than a missed go. If they had to be changed, then the whole seven were changed, which just goes to show we all, outside of the pros, play our own variation of the rules.

When it gets to the words themselves, I really wish there was an index, at least for the groupings, otherwise you would have to have a good memory where to look in the book. For these, Bukszpan draws from all over the place and the explanations can help expand your knowledge from some unusual sources. I’ve even finally learnt what Laverne and Shirley were referring to with three vital words in the opening credits of their own show. No, I’m not going to tell you the meanings here, but try playing hopscotch with them.

It’s hardly surprising that a lot of the words are derived from foreign countries but after all, English is a bastard language in that it is a composite language so that shouldn’t be a surprise. Having an explanation as to their meaning and source is helpful. About the only ones not here is Romany but maybe it hasn’t strayed as far as America.

If you want to widen your vocabulary, this book is rather handy. A few words are beginning to stay in my mind, although quite what I’m going to do with ‘tentoria’ – the internal skeletal form of an insect’s head – I’m not sure yet. About the only word meaning I’m puzzling over is ‘fey’ being insane when I thought it meant related to fairie but that’s crazy.

For those who skim the book and wonder about the lettering system in the last third of the book, it’s more to do the letters within the word than starting with them. To add to this, there are an assortment of woodcut-like illustrations that should give you the occasional grin.

Although many reference books are bought to dig through at random, this one is actually worth reading straight through first before doing this. It won’t replace a thesaurus and not all words are suitable for use in writing stories, but if you’re looking for the odd interesting word, then this book will be of interest. If you just play Scrabble, then you’ll be adding this book to you collection.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Chronicle Books. 176 page illustrated small hardback. Price: £11.99 (UK), $18.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4521-0824-7)
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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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