I first met my friend Brando in the Park, where he hustled me out of a double sawbuck before I got wise to him. Brando is a top-ranking Scrabble player who has sometimes been described (by those who don't really know him) as the archetypal Angry Black Man.

We have of course since become firm friends and regular playing companions, and my Scrabble game has improved tremendously under his tutelage, though I'm not sure I'm ready yet to ask for a chance to get my twenty back.

After putting the lie to his 'gangsta' hustler persona, it did not come as too much of a surprise to me to learn that Brando was a fellow netizen, and he introduced me to the net Scrabble groups, where he is a regular poster. This is a typical post of his:

I happen to be rappin' on HOW headz THINK (perception and perspective)... This is giving me a mindfuck, now... There are 92 poss combos...where dupes are concerned, I count the ACTUAL number a possibilities...the math is kooky cuzza the dupe...my homies should be able to handle it...

At this point I need to digress a little on the subject of tournament Scrabble play. The official dictionary of reference in the USA is the National Scrabble Association's (NSA's) "Official Tournament and Club Word List" (OTaCWL), a private publication which was created to supplant Merriam Webster's book "The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary" (OSPD): a couple of years ago, the publishers of the OSPD decided that it was more important to make sales to grandmothers than to club- and tournament-playing Scrabblers, so they decided to excise a number of what they considered offensive words from the book. The bowdlerised Third Edition of that book was subsequently referred to in Scrabble circles as the ESPD, or Expurgated Scrabble Players Dictionary.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, they've had their own dictionary issues. Previously they've used a reference called "Official Scrabble Words" (OSW) which is published by Chambers Harrap from Edinburgh, Scotland. But a small vocal faction is leading a controversial movement to standardise both the US and Europe on a common word-list called, somewhat whimsically, SOWPODS - which is an anagram of the acronyms OSW+OSPD.

Now that we're moving towards a common vocabulary, when annotating SOWPODS games we like to mark individual words with a tag to say which word-list it came from, if not a word common to both. For instance, QI# means that QI occurs only in OSW and ZIZZLE$ (a word you can only play with a blank, incidentally) means that ZIZZLE occurs only in OSPD. A word which is not valid in either is tagged LIKESO*

I explain all this because it helps to understand conversations with Brando. We occasionally use these tags in speech as well as writing, for humorous effect, where we'd say "Kwee-pound" or "Zizzle-dollar"; so when I use the # and $ tags in this post, it's truly representative of our conversations.

Now, Brando is an educated man. He's a vet (something we have in common, although from different armies in different times) and courtesy of the Montgomery G.I. Bill (a.k.a. Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966) has a University degree in linguistics; he not only has a good vocabulary but is erudite and when not hustling suckers like me, speaks Standard American English (SAE). So the first time I saw his almost illiterate posts I was somewhat taken aback to say the least. My first thought was that he was making fun of teenagers and their low standards of literacy nowadays, but the more I read the more I realised he was serious; this is his writing metier: he is seriously trying to write in Ebonics. It looked like a caricature of the Quentin Tarantino wigger style of writing; white kids trying to sound hip by writing like black street punks. You see the trouble is he doesn't do it very well. If a white kid wrote like that, people like TW would make fun of him. But that's Brando's inner Angry Black Man talking. Brando wants to sound ghetto because thats what the brothers do nowadays.

So, Brando and I are pretty tight now, and we're at the stage of friendship where we show it by insulting each other, which we do in our idiosyncratic Scrabblers' fashion by using words which are not in the common vocabulary; so he will cheerfully call me COCKSUCKER# YID$ and I will merrily call him ASSHOLE# MOTHERFUCKER# in return; but I got him the other day - he said "MOMSER$, youse is one mean mofo Scrabble player fo' a KIKE#" to which I feigned indignation and yelled "You can't call me a KIKE#!"

Considering some of the things we've called each other, this should not have raised as much as an eyebrow, so he asked me "Yo, wassup bro???"...

I replied "You can't call me a KIKE# because KIKE* has been removed from the ESPD!!!" Yuk yuk. OK, no-one ever said Scrabblers have an advanced sense of humor. Anyway, ever since then we have been trying to raise the level of our insults to see if we could find one that really would yank the other's chain, or at least provide a opportunity to act as if it had. We've called each other some of the worst names known to man, and delighted in every one of them, but I finally came up with one that he seemed genuinely pissed over: I asked him why he feigned this ghetto talk when he was clearly an educated man, and I suggested that perhaps it would be fair to describe him as a "BLACK WIGGER$". I knew NIGGER+ had been given the ESPD treatment, but I knew that the excised list of words omitted a whole lot of more creative epithets, and I was sure WIGGER$ was among them.

Brando flew into a rage at this and I thought I'd finally overstepped the mark with a comment that maybe was a little too close to home.

But Brando had finally got his revenge; he couldn't keep up his act for long, and broke down laughing, explaining that although WIGGERY# was in OSW, WIGGER* was too new to be found in either of the lists!

Word up! The reason this is going into my daylog rather than being filed under a more descriptive title such as black wigger is that I'm really just using it as an excuse to brag that Brando and I were recruited today as extras for Curtis Hanson's forthcoming adaptation of Word Freak, where we'll be portraying people remarkably like ourselves playing Scrabble in the Park.

How right you were, Andy.