Thursday, November 29, 2007


Last month I spent a long weekend in Florida with my book club. We are a group of ten women who have read and discussed fifty-three books in the past five years, sharing a lot of laughs and a few tears along the way. We usually get together in one another’s Minnesota homes, but this time we all jumped at Janet’s offer to do a destination book club at her retirement home in Naples. In addition to much rousing conversation about Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, we did a lot of wining and dining, did some walking, played a little tennis, and took a sunset cruise showcasing the stately vacation homes of some of the wealthiest people in the world. None of us will be moving up to their neighborhood any time soon.

I have to admit that I was disappointed that no one else in the group wanted to visit the Everglades. After all, we were only an hour away, I didn’t know when we would be in the area again, and, as it turned out, the everglades was to be the setting for our next book, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

My sister, Jill, who is also a member of the book club, appeased me by offering to play Scrabble poolside in Janet’s lanai. She must have been a bit nervous that my disappointment about the Everglades would soon escalate into a full-blown snit. Either that or she was afraid I would rent my own car and force her to take the tour against her will, pulling big-sister rank and insisting that the trip was for her own good. Jill wouldn’t ordinarily suggest a game of Scrabble because she likes sports, not word games. She has never beaten me at Scrabble and I have never beaten her at tennis.

As it turned out, I picked the letter “q” in my first group of seven Scrabble tiles. I did not pick a “u” or a blank that I could use as a “u” for the rest of the game. No one else played a “u” that I was able to use either. So, essentially, I played the entire game with six, instead of seven, letters; and lost to my sister. She then made a big show of posting the final score on the refrigerator, just as my dad used to do on the rare occasions when he managed to pull off a win. Need I mention the control necessary on my part to avoid a snit at this point?

I knew at the time that there were some English words in which the “q” was not followed by a “u,” but I had not committed them to memory so I could not use them. That is no longer the case. I opened Janet's Scrabble dictionary and began memorizing the “u-less” “q” words just as soon as the game was finished. I continued studying when I got home and I have discovered that there are quite a few such words. In my research "qi” is the richest find, because it is the only “q” word in the English language that has only two letters, making it a very valuable Scrabble word. My game, and the score sheet, in Naples, Florida would have turned out quite differently had I known the word “qi.”

Qi is not a new word, but it is a new word to the English lexicon. I found it in my 2006 on-line Scrabble dictionary. It is considered a new English word of Chinese origin, pronounced “chee.” Actually, “chee” isn’t exactly right, but it is about as close to right as most Western speakers can get.

The Chinese character for qi is a combination of rice and steam. The literal translation is “steam rising from rice as it cooks.” In Chinese thought, qi is the vital force that is inherent in all things. Qi is the “life force” or “spiritual energy,” sometimes translated as “air” or “breath.” In traditional Chinese thought, the steam rising from the boiling rice is actually considered to be the rice’s respiration.

Frankly, I find the concept of “breathing rice” to be a little bit creepy. I’m guessing that most English speakers who use the word aren’t taking it quite so literally. I am comfortable with the idea of qi as it applies to living things, but less so when it is describing inanimate objects such as sticks, stones and rice.

I’m still disappointed that I didn’t get to the Everglades to see the alligators and the mangroves and the “muck” where Hurston’s Janie and Tea Cake planted their beans. Maybe we’ll get there next year, if we can convince Janet to make the Naples book club an annual event. I’m also disappointed about that score sheet on the refrigerator, but it has certainly proved to be a good motivator to get me working on my game and that’s a good thing. Scrabble anyone?

1. Bobbie, thanks for remembering St. M.M. and Sister Michaelene with me, and caring about it as much as I do. Et cum spiritu tuo. (See comment on clerestory)
2. Colin, thanks for educating me on Jabberwocky. The word chortle was coined by Lewis Carroll in Jabberwocky, just as Emily said it was. Colin informed me that Jabberwocky is a poem in Into the Looking Glass, not a separate work. Sorry, sloppy research on my part. (See: chortle)
3. No solutions to the Thanksgiving Wordoku? Hint: Top left corner is the letter "E." Pete, try unscrambling the word and then solving the puzzle. (See: Wordoku)
4. Please keep the comments coming. They are very much welcome and appreciated.


nancy said...

I introduced the u-less qi to my kids last week during our scrabble games in Guatemala. They accepted it as something I had learned from the scrabble dictionary without a definition, I think, because it is such a terrific addition to the game. Gina was our consistent winner and continuing champion.

Anonymous said...

aaah so your english language are defined by an online scrabble dictionary :D

Anonymous said...

If you play word games a lot the word " QI " is very important. Otherwise it doens't mean a hill of beans, :-)
FYI : I play scrabble and words with friends.

Anonymous said...

I do not like the addition of qi for an actual word. somtimes you just have to live with getting "stuck" with the Q or make an exchage for one of your turns. No scrabble dicitionary when I play Webster is the way to go, keep the game pure. It's so sad that I can't play the word games on my phone because of all of the not actual words that are accepted, it's just frustrating.