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“The New York Times Had Two Wordles.” One for You and One for Them, and Yours Got Deleted

Well, with all the other things going on, this is less important, but nonetheless depressing, and not surprising. And it is about our favorite current word game, Wordle.

Yesterday I played, and the answer was STOVE. Not too hard, I got it in four tries. Sometimes I search to see what the general reaction was to the Wordle word, if people were upset or angry that the word was too hard for them. Well, I saw something strange, that there were apparently TWO Wordle answers that day, at least some people got one and some got another.

And it seemed, from what I was trying to extrapolate, that the New York Times somehow took out the first answer, which was HARRY, and replaced it with STOVE. Why would they do that? Harry would have been a difficult one, and it is a good word, I have certainly seen it in stories, usually from earlier times. Merriam-Webster defines harry as “To make a pillaging or destructive raid on.” I have usually read it as meaning to harass, to keep going after. Another dictionary definition is, “To harass, agitate or trouble by or as if by repeated attacks, beleaguer. He was harried by constant doubts.”

This is how I read it in the olden adventure stories, and I am sure I have read it in Shakespeare. But somehow the NYT decided in medias res to remove “harry” and replace it with “stove.” And my immediate thought was that somehow they were doing their bowdlerizing, expurgating thing, how pathetic.

And today an article in the New York Post (I do not very often read that trash Murdoch publication, but it is read by many, and it is sometimes a news source) is headed, “Wordle goes woke. Vows to remove ‘politically insensitive words.'”

The story says that after various players were upset or confused at learning that there were “two answers,” because “the answer is supposed to be universal,” the Times told the site MASHABLE that they had removed “harry” and replaced it with stove,” “as they are in the process of removing obscure or politically insensitive words from the game.”

A NYT spokesperson said, “In an effort to make the puzzle more accessible, we are reviewing the solutions, and removing obscure or politically insensitive words over time. Harry is an example of an obscure word.”

And so, the NYT is by degrees doing what I and others had expected: they are making the game easier for the “masses,” while removing all words which could somehow offend somebody. We have discussed this before, it is unfortunately another bad aspect of this era, and probably will never change back. We have acutely sensitive people who do not really care about the art of doing word games, or writing novels, who just enjoy complaining that something offended them. That is easier, takes less brainpower, and gives one a sense of righteousness.

Of course, as with all things, there are boundaries. I would never want to see vulgarities as the word answers, although we know that there are many Anglo-Saxon words which refer to genitals, which also have completely asexual meanings. And there are many more English words which have completely innocent meanings, but which may have been used in some context to insult someone. I used the example “chink,” which of course means a small dent, but was also used derogatorily about Chinese people. Should that word be removed from our language, in any context, because of that? I would say, absolutely not.

Think of a word like “fat.” It has all sorts of meanings, but someone who wanted to be mean, might call an overweight person “fat,” and he or she might be hurt and offended. Do we take the word out? “Stupid,” ‘dummy,” “jerk,” “ugly,” ‘fool,” are all words which used in the wrong context might insult and offend. But again, does that mean the words should be removed from the language, or usage in a book or in conversation?

Then we have all sorts of words which are about violence, real or metaphorical–and that distinction is important. “Slash,” can be about a horrible act of violence, or it can be about drastically cutting a budget. “Pound” can be about beating up someone, or it can be about a professor trying to go over and over a certain theme. Or in sports, a team “pounded” their rival. Or of course in an entirely different context, an English currency.

Now, some people, either out of ignorance, or almost deliberate offense, can try to go through books and articles and remove such words. We have the very sensitive racial aspects, where words like “lynch” or “whip” have very unpleasant connotations, but at least to me, should not mean that the words should never be used. For example, the Oscar-nominated movie “The Ox-Bow Incident,” is about a lynching, but not of Black people; there were lynchings throughout history which were not racially based. And while using a whip is a bad thing, we read about sergeants whipping recruits into shape, and it is not meant literally.

I think that there are a few words whose history and connotation are so bad, that they should not be used. But there are very few. You know, people often use the phrase “beyond the pale,” and that has a history where Catherine the Great, so-called, segregated all the Jewish people in her region to live within specific boundaries, “The Pale.” The term has other medieval meanings, but I certainly am aware of that particular one, yet the phrase is often used today, to refer to behavior which someone thinks goes too far. I do not like hearing the phrase, but there it is.

So we can debate the connotations of certain words, and people can try to get them banned. This particular popular Wordle game seems to be a chance for the New York Times and others to try to send all sorts of words to a realm of proscribed speech. That is not a good thing, overall.

Now, it certainly seems that “harry” was not taken out of yesterday’s game right in the middle, because it offended people; but who knows, the way things are going now. I assume that it was as the NYT said, they took it out because it was “too obscure,” meaning their average readers, the same ones who thought “tacit” was too obscure, or “caulk,” would not get it, and be angry at the NYT, and not play the game. They don’t want that!

I have watched the “lowest common denominator” effect all my life, in school, and in the political realm. Shoot for the simplest explanations, couch everything in terms that the less literate will understand. This might be viewed as egalitarian, or it might much more actually be a dumbing down, so that the people who want to control everything, get their way .Take nuance out of the language, or out of argument, and things become far too oversimplified, and people become less able to think in more complex ways.

That is what the Republicans thrive on. Say the same thing over and over, devoid of context or historical fact, or implication, and they can get enough people to say, “Yeah! That’s right! We don’t want a bunch of pointy-headed liberals telling us we have to learn about this theory of evolution, or about what the Constitution means. We know that it is all about the most important Second Amendment, which says that anyone can carry any amount of weapons they want!”

You know, we more nuanced people can scoff at this, or feel sorry for these people’s lack of depth and understanding; but if there are more of them, they win. It is like the triumph of the ignorant. The rulers of old always counted on that, and the Republicans thrive on it. Trump, one of the stupidest people ever, said gloatingly, “I love the uneducated,” and no one took it seriously, but it was simply saying what the people running his party have been trying to do for decades.

Now, am I going a bit too far with this, simply because the NYT took out “harry” in the middle of the game? Perhaps, but I think it is very important to see how commercialism, and anti-intellectualism, combine in this country. These words: tacit, caulk, bloke, harry, are not obscure to many of us ,but they don’t care about “us,” they care about their target audience of people who don’t read novels, and don’t know many words.

I had to sit through first grade listening to children read the Dick and Jane books. I realize that learning to read is not as easy for some. But hearing “Run, Jane. Run, Jane, Run,” over and over, every day, was stultifying, and I could not opt out of it. I am not calling for a world of philosopher kings, but can’t there be an effort to challenge people, give them a few more arcane but hardly vanished words, so that they can learn something, and we can be mentally challenged? I guess not, they are shooting for the same audience that has made it almost impossible to find a really good book or movie which makes you think and consider things in complex ways.

I guess it is too much to ask, even in a word game, because there are major profits to be made, and blockbuster movies to sell, and things need to be reduced to the most basic ideas and words, to make the money which is now the bottom line for everything, at least in America. And it continues apace, which is a word which you can be sure will never show up in Wordle, when there are all those “great,” “silly, “super” words of five letters to use.


25 Responses

  1. “Take nuance out of the language, or out of argument, and things become far too oversimplified, and people become less able to think in more complex ways. ”

    Well, that was the whole idea behind Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

  2. Yes, and when I first read it, in high school, I did not realize that, I thought that it was just how the language had devolved. But of course it was designed that way. How you think affects how you speak, but the converse is just as true. Which makes what the once home of the literati, the New York Times, really deserving of serious criticism for doing this.

  3. The original app developed by Josh Wardl seems to have room for 500 games, and he likely had it populated with the ‘secret’ word. So IF there was some way to access the original app is the only way I could see this happening. Or maybe someone who downloaded the original app onto an android device and was playing that could see a different word.

    In any case HARRY would be a tougher word IMO.

    But, it is certainly not obscure; and how on earth it could be considered ‘politically insensitive’ is beyond me, Harry Reid is no longer in power, in fact he no longer even has the ability to play WORDL

  4. I just did today’s wordle, and it was only the second time in the 79 games I have played the game, that it took me six guesses to get the word. And I had just listened yesterday to a little video of Loreena McKennitt talking about her absolutely brilliant album “The Visit,” and a portion of her singing her musical version of one of my very favorite poems, Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallot.” And that is one of the only times I ever remember reading or hearing that word!

    • Got me to look at the poem… when I first read your comment I thought you were talking about the Wordl for March 29 ;-o).

      I had a great day today, March 29 was one of my rare impressive days

  5. I am going to have to give it a few more days… but if today’s Wordl is indicative of those we will see going forward, I am going to have to agree that the NYTimes may be dumbing down the game.

    • It is fun to get some rather easily, but it is also good to have at least some be challenging. If NYT is going to consider many words “obscure,” then there will not be too many left. What does “obscure” mean to them, “it’s not found on TMZ or Twitter?” I never thought it would come to where the home of the challenging Sunday crossword was eliminating words someone decided were “obscure.” Let’s put it this way: If you had – a r r y, you could quickly eliminate harry, parry, tarry, because they would call them obscure. No one would learn any new words, and a wide vocabulary would never be rewarded, which I thought was the whole idea of word games.

      “Lowly” wasn’t bad yesterday, so we’ll see what comes next, but I am being reminded of early school. I won the first ever spelling bee in my junior high school, and one of the words was “raise.” And not knowing if they meant “raise” or “raze,” same pronunciation, I asked, “up or down?” And the students in the audience laughed, but at least the teacher knew what I meant, and said, “up.” Here we are again. The winning word was “intrepid,” and afterwards, the teacher asked if I knew what t meant, and fortunately, I did. That word is n now “obscure,” of course, along with raze, harry, and agora, the latter two removed by NYT even during the game.

      • Obscure might include qadis, qophs, crwth, and maybe even burqa. But harry, parry, tarry, and even barry, are not all that obscure IMO.

  6. Enjoyed this post and the discussion. Wanted to be sure you are aware of the amazing archive app created by grad student Devang Thakkar. The app has all the words going back to the start, and also includes the newest words as well. It acts the same as regular Wordle but without hard mode. I have played the first 80 games, and overall I find these words just a bit more challenging than the current words. There are a lot of double letter words, even a triple letter word.

    In one case I needed to check the dictionary to confirm that the only word that appeared to fit was actually a word. And it was the one.

    I was hoping this archive version would have ‘harry’ instead of ‘stove’ but unfortunately not.

    You can find Thakkar on twitter. Here is the link to the app.

    • Carl, thank you! I will try this and do some of the earlier wordles. I am not sure what “hard mode” means, but I’m sure I will find out. Maybe I should already know. I never set it up, just went to the original site and played it, and then it just switched me over to the NYT version. Triple letter words don’t bother me too much, my great concern in this game has been the – a – ed, which has many, many combinations, including the missing fourth letter being c, d, g, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z.

      • William according to the anagram solver I used there are 91 words which match that pattern, so it would indeed be a great concern to all of us.

    • Carl… Lethe posted this link a month or so ago on in one of the WORDL discussions. I have played all of the back games and as of 04/01 I am 282 out of 285.
      I also discovered that I could look at the array of games from the app and that is how I know there were 500 games in Josh Wardle’s original app.
      I am waiting for the 2 letter word nanna ;-o)

  7. That’s an excellent record. I’m playing the back games slowly, making them last. I’ve done 79 current words plus 80 back games. Failed to solve twice with the old ones, and my current string continues, with a rare 2 today.

    Somewhere I’d heard there were maybe 2000 words in the original list, but 500 sounds more reasonable.

  8. Okay this is a Wordle coincidence that I can’t ignore. Today I played new game 287, and just now old word 81 from the archive using a first guess of pearl in both cases. And I solved in 2 guesses for both of them. My birthday is coming up in a couple days so maybe this is my present.

    Note: had trouble with that previous comment at 1:17. Initially the site rejected it saying the comment could not be posted. I was trying to reply to jmac’s comment. Not sure what might have gone wrong.

    • That is quite impressive. I got it in three, but that was quite a good guess you made after “pearl.”

      Very occasionally, but I think less so lately, WordPress will not approve a comment, but there does not seem too much consistency in it, except for one word which refers to a prejudice based on race, which word got used so often as a cudgel by some in the 2008 campaign, that RD just eliminated it from use in comments.

    • You guys both put me to shame… today was a phew for me. Could have been a great, I had it down to either trove or trope and guessed wrong.

      • Today’s wordle was not easy. It took me five tries, and it was no sure thing I would get it there, I might have in six. Often, it is just the words one starts with; yesterday I had four letters in my first two tries, today I had none in my first, two out of order in my second, no new ones in my third, just a bit more information as to where the two I had were in the word. You may have done much better on this one.

        • Yes, this one gave me a scare. I also got it in five. After my third guess I had the last two letters and had eliminated 11 letters. 4th guess eliminated 3 more letters. This was a difficult word.

  9. The wordle of April 5 was difficult, I thought. It took me five tries. I just know that there are people on the internet bitterly complaining about it!

  10. Yeah, it was bordering on obscure, but should be a known word to most college graduates at least (IMO). After staring at what I knew after 3 it was the only word that I could come up with.

    • Agree. Literate folks will know it, but might fail to solve it. Wednesday’s word is interesting, certainly not obscure. Solved it in 4.

      • Only obscure to the brain dead (or close to it) ;-o)

        Yep, another splendid day for me, which based on how I play is what I get the most.

  11. It took me five tries, I thought it as somewhat difficult, not as a word, but as a letter sequence. Now, had I used the third guess I often do, I would have gotten it a bit faster. But I was concerned after three not very successful tries, and then finally got two of the four letters in my fourth guess.

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