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Frock!! Chard! The Decline of Western Civilization?

On Monday, the Wordle word was “frock.” It is a word I like, because I grew up with stories which used language like that. It actually took me six guesses to get it, as I again chose not to look for letters, but make guesses too early. But I got it, and I thought that frock was very likely the word before I made my last guess. But I was pretty sure that with the state of non-reading in this era, the word would baffle some people. And I was right.

From an internet article, “Wordle 576 angers American players with a word that ‘is too British for an American game.'” “A certain word has infuriated a number of Wordle players who struggled to solve a particularly uncommon five-letter word…”

“This isn’t the first time players have been thrown a curveball, as words such as leery, coyly, quart and agape have caused a lot of frustration for fans in the past.” It appears that some Americans complained that the word favored British players. One said “I should have gotten it on row three, but I thought it was too British for an American game.” “That’s not even a word, shut up, I hate you Wordle, added one very furious player.” “I’ve always thought it was a strange word, I’m going to check it’s (sic) origins,” wrote another.

Okay, I am glad that people are playing the word game, and trying. But to not know the word frock? Anyone who reads novels would have easily known the word. Or even if one read about a priest’s frock, or a religious official being defrocked. I was stunned to see that many people did not know this word. And frock is a word which gives some color to the language; not just saying dress, or outfit. Frock to me connotes prettiness, perhaps a nice party dress, something that a younger woman might wear. Language is not just for trying to be erudite or even pretentious, it is descriptive and sometimes charming. Usually a story with the word “frock” in it, is a nice one, with romance in it.

But the fact is that many people simply do not read books, particularly older ones. Nancy Drew and her friends wore frocks. The girls in Rosemary Desjardins novels did. I never read those, but I knew about them. I think they did in the Dumas novels, of course translated from French to English. It is a word which should not be lost, as so many are apparently being.

I wasn’t going to rant about that, but then on Wednesday, the word was “chard.” That is a word which I first encountered in a “Mad Magazine.” I didn’t usually read them, maybe a friend gave me a copy of one. It was a spoof of “Popeye,” where he was trying to get a can of spinach, and people kept handing him other leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, parsley, and chard. I reasonably assumed that chard was another one; and I then occasionally ran into it at a grocery store or on a menu.

When I had the letters a, c, r, d, h after three guesses, I knew that the word had to be chard. Many other people apparently did not, according to this article, “Wordle 578 angers players with strange word, ‘ – – – ing hell, that’s just not reasonable.'” One comment was, “I really didn’t think that would be the word. I’ve never heard of it before.” “Thought that last guess was a word, now I have to look it up,” someone else wrote.,

Chard is not a word that one needs to know. Frock is not either, actually. There are a few words that we need to communicate, and it looks like we are reducing to that. The opposite of the way language began and developed. It is good to know many words, not to show off (well, yes, there is that, too), but to express nuance, and to actually name different things. Chard is not lettuce, or arugula, so one should call it chard, to differentiate. Is a frock the same as s dress? Maybe, as I have rarely tried to buy them (not for me!), but if I were to see a sign on a store window advertising “summer frocks,” I would know what they meant, and what they probably looked like. Plus, if I wanted to write or read something, it is valuable to know many words.

Remember Orwell making up words like “plus good,” and “double plus good,” to both mock and horrify, with a language which substituted simpleness and common usage for color and depth? He thought that a totalitarian state would do that. But people can do it to themselves, if they don’t read, and learn words.

I did it, and probably everybody reading here, did that, when they were children, and even beyond. Learning a new word is exhilarating. Being able to come up with “le mot juste” (the brilliant editor Robert Gottlieb used that term in a movie I just saw, “Turn Every Page” about the collaboration between him and the highly esteemed writer Robert Caro), is very satisfying. It’s probably like knowing what key to hit on a piano to achieve the perfect line of music; or which color to use or mix to create the artistic effect you are trying to obtain. You can get along without that ability and knowledge, but your work and your life are diminished without it.

Not that I know all the words! But almost all of the non-scientific ones, and I have not seen a word on Wordle that I have not known. I think that is likely true for Beata and Jmac here, who play Wordle regularly, though if any of Jmac’s Welsh words actually come up, I will not know them. Words like flwrwhwr, or something. But good old English or American words, I know. And it is fun to read an author who has a good vocabulary, and to silently share a complex word with him or her. Is it as good as having a great meal, or listening to a beautiful piece of music? I don’t know, but it is good, and that is all ye need to know.

So pick up some books, everyone! Read them! If you see a word you don’t know, look it up! (what my mother always said when I lazily asked her to tell me). Try to use it in a sentence! Brush up your Shakespeare! (Who wrote that, and in what musical?, for a bonus point).