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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).


31 Responses

  1. Kiss Me Kate? Cole Porter?
    I have no idea how I know this.

    • Bingo! Very impressive!!! I can see how you are so good at “Trivial Pursuits”!

      It is a very clever lyric. My parents loved Alfred Drake, who was not part of this song, but who played the lead in this and so many great stage musicals, including the incredible “KIsmet.”

  2. I wonder what those who complained about frock think about beard? I thought frock was just Splendid.

    And Chard got me to break my rule too, after two guesses I had ChAr_. And I had eliminated M, so to me chard which being a lover of swiss chard was the obvious answer and got me my 23rd impressive after 578 games.

    FYI, William, there is only one Welsh 5 letter word in the scrabble dictionaries I am familiar with. CRWTH, which got me the Crhon my second guess.

    I have been fascinated with W as vowel words ever since my sixth grade English textbook told me the vowels were A,E,I,O,U, and sometimes Y and W. I didn’t find any use of W as the only vowel in a word until I was 30, and my wife gave me the scrabble players dictionary for my birthday. I found the only two pretty quickly because they both start with C. For the record CWM is the only other W as vowel word in there. However, since the W is pronounced as OOH (think Winny) I am now of the opinion that the correct spelling for what the brits call a hoover should be vacywm.

    • Frock and Chard (hmm, sounds like a shady law firm – are those their real names?) proved to be Splendid for me.

      • Near my home I see signs for a law firm whose first listed partner is Bubba. Not far away I pass an attorney’s office whose sign tells me his name is Duh.

        I always hope to see them join forces and form Bubba and Duh.

    • I was just kidding about the Welsh words, of course. They would make an excellent addition to the general language!

  3. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” was written by Cole Porter, the pride of Peru, Indiana, for the musical “Kiss Me Kate”. The song about how to win a girl by wowing her with your knowledge of the Bard is performed by two gangster characters named “First Man” and “Second Man”. Something tells me those are not their real names.

  4. I have been doing The NY Times Crossword for a very long time (started in the mid-1950’s). There are often clues to words pertaining to dress, but I don’t remember ever seeing a clue for the word “frock.”

    Roz in NJ/NYC

    • I am surprised. Maybe frock is not as much a part of the language as I had thought. But I always knew it, so I must have seen it in several books.

      • In 19th century literature, I have seen the words “frock coat” (for a man’s garment) used more often than “frock” (for a woman’s dress). For example, Jane Austen would describe a woman’s apparel as a “gown” or simply a “dress”. I can think of only one instance in which Austen uses the word “frock” for a woman’s dress and that is in “Mansfield Park”. I do remember that Thomas Hardy wrote a short poem called “The Pink Frock”.

  5. I just did today’s Wordle, I got in four tries. Did an English person take over the game? I bet there will be more complaints about this word! Dress well, lads!

  6. The Wordle word for Sunday, January 22, was a word I never thought I would see there, and I almost did not want to guess it, but there wasn’t much left to try on my fifth guess. My childhood reading, and what my father read to me, paid off again! Many happy hours listening to him read the classics to me before bed.

  7. I got Sunday’s Wordle in three guesses, very early in the morning (3am ET). I had only been awake for about five minutes. It surprised me that they used that word.

    I am having Long Covid sleep problems: insomnia, nightmares, etc. Also extreme fatigue, not helped by the sleep problems.

    Keep wearing your masks. Protect yourself and others. This pandemic is far from over.

    • My father never read to me, but he always said that, even when I was a tiny little girl, “She’s as sharp as a tack. Nothing gets past her.”

    • Very impressive to get that in three!

      i hope these symptoms improve! Yes, one has to be very careful, though I am not seeing that when I am out.

  8. Yesterday (Sunday), I was Impressive. Alas, today (Monday), I am merely Splendid.

    • Splendidness was not in the cards for me today (;-o) , I was merely great.

      • I originally wrote that Splendidness had ELUDEd me today, but then I realized that William dosen’t do WORDL until later

        • I had originally tried exude, which I liked as an answer, but
          I was off by a letter, so it was elude Sometimes I try to figure if wordle would actually use a certain word like exude, but it is risky to do that, because just when you think they would not, they do, as with HUNKY or MATEY, or the Spanish word they used once.

    • i am not even sure that the site i use for Worldle has those superlatives, but maybe I am not seeing them. Splendid is a better term then impressive, so they have them wrong, it seems. Well, I got Monday’s in four tries, and that is good, no matter what the site wants to call it!

      • These are the words that show up on top of the Wordle screen depending on how many guesses you take to get the daily answer:

        1 guess: GENIUS
        2 guesses: MAGNIFICENT
        3 guesses: IMPRESSIVE
        4 guesses: SPLENDID
        5 guesses: GREAT
        6 guesses: PHEW

  9. Somewhat off topic: “The Reader” (2008) is a movie in part about the power of being read to. I remember the first time I watched it and was so moved that Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog” played a small but prominent part in the movie. It has been my favorite short story since I was a teenager.

  10. Wordle on Tuesday I got in three, just to show that I can sometimes do that. Not a hard one, of course.

  11. On this post, I get little ads for asparagus casserole, spinach casserole and zucchini casserole recipes. It must be because of the “Chard” in the post’s title. On the Baldwin post, I get ads for movies and law firms.

    I find this ad targeting both humorous and mildly disturbing.

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