Should Scrabble letter values change? Of course they should

Scrabble letter values haven’t changed since the 1930s. They’re based on a page from the New York Times which inventor Alfred Mosher Butts (yes, really) painstakingly analysed for letter frequency. But even though English has changed a lot since then, developer Joshua Lewis’ new program that allocates up-to-date values for Scrabble letters hasn’t gone down well with fans of the game. (While I was writing this, the Independent was running an online poll with 81 per cent voting against any change.)

At The Writer we’re fond of pointing out that language doesn’t stand still. It’s constantly evolving. Think back to the dawn of the internet barely 30 years ago. That’s only a blink of an eye in historical terms – but what started out as ‘electronic mail’ quickly became ‘e-mail’, and nowadays hyphenating ‘email’ seems hopelessly old fashioned. In fact, a quick Google tells me that ‘email’ is a perfectly acceptable Scrabble word.

So, since you can use modern words, shouldn’t Scrabble move with the times? Defenders of the game’s purity argue that it’s a game of chance, so it doesn’t matter if the values are a little outdated. But surely Alfred Butts wanted some skill involved – otherwise why have different values at all? If Scrabble enthusiasts want a true game of chance, then get rid of the values altogether, and just see who can come up with the longest word. Or why not update the values every so often to reflect our ever-changing language? It won’t hurt, and people might just learn a few new words.

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