November 2, 2012 | 2 Comments | Betsy Woodman
Pictured above: My mom playing Scrabble in her later years. Don’t be deceived by that little smile, she was a ferocious competitor. Actually, the gene is on both sides of the family. I can still picture my two grandmothers locked in Scrabble combat against each other. Scary!
One of my mom’s Scrabble weapons may well have been Indian words. I read somewhere that 900 English words come from Indian languages–Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, and many others. At least 250 of those words have made it into the Official Scrabble ™ Players Dictionary.
Some of them have passed so completely into English that a Scrabble player wouldn’t even consider challenging them: bazaar, cashmere, guru, harem, karma, pajama, yoga.
Other words you might not know without some exposure to India, either real-life or of the armchair variety. For example: dacoit, a bandit; topee or topi, a sun helmet; walla or wallah, a person engaged in a particular occupation or activity or associated with a particular place.
A taste for Indian music would also beef up your Scrabble vocabulary, say with sitar, a long-necked Indian lute; sarod, another kind of lute; or tabla, a small drum. Here’s a less common one: tala, a traditional rhythmic pattern of music in India.
Indian restaurant goers know chutney, chapatti, dal, and poori. (Chutnee, chapati, dhal and puri will get you points, too.)
In fact, your spelling can be shaky, and you’ll still be okay with a lot of words. Bheesty, bheestie, and bhistie, all mean “a water carrier.” Hadj, haj, and hajj are ways to spell the pilgrimage to Mecca, and hadjee, hadji, haji, and hajji, a person who has made that trip.
By the way, just because these words are okay for Scrabble, doesn’t mean they’ll get past your word processor’s spell checker. I just gave mine a nervous breakdown. Really, how provincial of it!