We’ve become familiar with the idea of FOMO, that is ‘fear of missing out’, but a new phenomenon seems to have appeared recently that we might call FOCO, ‘fear of causing offence’. The latest example is the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) announcing that derogatory language will be removed from the game’s official word list. The decision follows an online poll conducted by NASPA that elicited impassioned responses. The organization’s CEO, John Chew, said: “Some members threatened to leave the association if a single word were removed; others threatened to leave the association if any offensive words remained.” NASPA represents about 10,000 players in the U.S. and Canada and there was “about a 50-50 split” over whether to remove the slurs from its official word list.
NASPA’s word list is used in competitive tournaments, but its list is different from the Merriam-Webster Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Hasbro says it has worked to eliminate offensive words from the dictionary with every new printing. While Hasbro has no say over NASPA’s list, and the organization’s members do not use Scrabble’s dictionary in competition, the company has said that it was amending the rules that appear in every Scrabble box “to make clear that slurs are not permissible in any form of the game.”
It turns out that one of the words banned by NASPA is the Irish word culchie, referring to a rural dweller. According to NASPA, culchie is an offensive slur that must be eliminated, along with culchies, culchier and culchiest. However, not everyone in Ireland has welcomed the ban. For some culchie is a badge of honour, something to be proud of. There is even an annual culchie festival, which celebrates the life of rural Ireland, and comedian, Conor Grimes, who regularly portrays culchies on stage and screen, says “It’s not derogatory or offensive at all”. So perhaps removing culchie from the Scrabble list is a case of FOCO. It is expected that the British equivalent of NASPA will now also engage in a consultation on what offensive slurs it should ban. Who knows what impact that will have in Ireland?