Saturday, November 17, 2007


“Platers” is a word that I have made up to name a game that I like to play. It is a portmanteau word (see portmanteau and dandle) which blends the word “plate” (as in license plate) and the word “letters.”

It turns out that platers is also a real word. It can mean people who do plating, such as metalworkers or printmakers, or machines that do the plating for them. Maybe the sheet metal workers in my dad’s sheet metal shop were sometimes known as platers. Maybe my dad worked as a plater himself when he studied typesetting in high school. He once explained to me how, in his day, nothing was printed without painstakingly laying out every single letter in every single word and each and every character in each and every sentence.

I like antiques and I have a printer’s box, with the letters “b” and “c” from an old print shop on the wall in my kitchen. The raised letters on the end of each matchstick-sized metal piece, are so small that I can’t read them without a magnifying glass. I cannot imagine lining them up to spell words.

There is another meaning for the word platers: inferior race horses. I’m not sure how the sorry, nosed-out nags got this name, but a horse race or other contest for a prize can be called a “plate,” so maybe it has something to do with that.

I have adapted my game, Platers, from a game my kids used to play in the car with one of their friend’s dad. I don’t know if their game had a name and I’m not sure of the exact rules, but this is how I play it.

When I am out for a walk or jog and passed by a car, I look at the license plate. In Minnesota, handicapped plates don’t work because they don’t have any letters, just numbers. I can’t remember how many, if any, letters are on Veteran’s license plates. License plates that support the Department of Natural Resources are too easy because they only have two letters, but they might be fun for kids. Vanity plates can be a challenge; I usually just try to figure out what they mean.

Regular Minnesota license plates have three letters and three numbers. I ignore the numbers and remember the letters. I then try to make the shortest word possible, using all three letters in the same order as they appear on the license plate. Sometimes it is very easy, i.e. MAT; sometimes I can’t come up with a word at all, i.e. VXV.

On my jog yesterday afternoon I had fun with the letters PKH:

1. The first word that came to me was “Poughkeepsie,” which does not work because it is a proper noun and proper nouns are not allowed in Platers, just as they are not allowed in Scrabble. Also, the letter “k” comes after the letter “h,” and I needed a word in which the letters followed the sequence: PKH. Still, Poughkeepsie is a great word and it brought to mind a visit to Vassar College, which is located there. I remember that I couldn’t get any cell phone reception in Poughkeepsie and that two boys were streaking across the campus in the middle of the afternoon while we were on our tour there.

2. The second word that occurred to me was “pricketh.” I imagined this as Shakespeare’s way of pricking his finger. “My lord, haveth thou pricketh thy thumb?” Although, in The Merchant of Venice, Shylock says, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” so I guess pricketh is not really a word, even for Shakespeare.

3. My third word was “packhorse,” a horse that carries supplies, but I was afraid that packhorse might not be one word, but two: pack horse. Turns out packhorse is a word, so I could have quit there, but I didn’t.

4. My fourth and final word was “peckish,” meaning irritable or slightly hungry. I remember Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls saying, “I’m feeling a bit peckish,” when she wanted something to eat. Peckish creates a word-picture for me: hungry chickens pecking the dirt for food.

Some people like to listen to their ipods when they’re out walking. Some people like sharing the time with their dogs. I like playing Platers. Anyone with another word for PKH? I can think of one.


Emilia said...

Oh Auntie Sue. You need to talk to my dad. He is obsessed with Platers (which he will probably argue he invented himself). Unfortunately, untold hours in the car with him has passed the compulsion on to me, and I like to walk past the lines of cars on Loring park on the way to the bus stop and assign each one a word. Also, nice Gilmore Girls reference. I approve. There's some good words on that show you might profile...

Anonymous said...

Yup, Pete's obsessed with license plates and loves the plater game. I thought it was Stenzel genetics but apparently the Somers are in on it too!

pete said...

Dude, that's my game! I invented it! Or so I thought. There is nothing new under the sun. In my version, you get bonus points if the three letters can be used consecutively to form part of a longer word. For example, NCE = daNCE. Have fun on your walks!

Oh, by the way: packingthread. pickthank. puckish.