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Word of the Week: ‘ze’


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘ze’.

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It’s that time of year folks. Family games, feuds galore, food comas and an obligatory drawn-out game of Scrabble.

This week we’re dissecting – despite there seeming to be very little to dissect – the word ‘ze’.

The term ‘ze’ (in case you’re wondering, it rhymes with bee) is set to be included in Scrabble’s official dictionary to celebrate the game’s 70th anniversary in May 2019 – and is on cue to be the tactical player’s favourite – garnering an easy score of 11.

A handful of neologisms, such as ‘bae’ (a noun used to refer to a boyfriend or girlfriend as ‘before anyone else’), ‘yowza’ (expresses approval), and the “wellness” community’s repurposed favourite ‘zen’ will also be drafted in.

The move comes in an attempt to modernise the word game and cater to a younger cohort of players by incorporating ‘text speak’. Presumably this would appeal to the linguistically challenged iGeneration who probably expect Scrabble to have a predictive text feature.

You can however, in all seriousness, trace ‘ze’s’ roots much further back – almost as far as the invention of Scrabble in 1938.

‘Ze’, a gender-neutral pronoun (others include ‘zie’, ‘zir’, ‘xe’), was first recorded between 1970-75 and is based on the German pronoun ‘sie’.

It is thought gender-neutral pronouns (employed instead of the restrictive ‘he’ or ‘she’) have been used as far back as the mid-19th century, in relation to changing ideas about women’s rights.

More recently though, the neologism has gained prominence as modern discussions of gender identity reach its zenith – and assuming someone’s gender or pronoun increasingly becomes a démodé, unwoke thing to do.

For some – like psychology professor Jordan Peterson – the tiny, two letter word represents more than a chance to beat a smug relative at Scrabble this Christmas, and instead indicates a more sinister descent into authoritarian, Newspeak-esque linguistic territory. His absolute refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns for transgender students at the University of Toronto sparked controversy back in 2016. You have to wonder if this philosophy would still apply in crucial Scrabble moment!

While it’s great (for the genderqueer community and Scrabble players alike) that ‘ze’ has been officially recognised, other new terms like ‘bae’ and ‘yowza’ might lead logophiles to question if Scrabble are taking ze piss as they look back to loftier times when words like ‘groutier’ won Scrabble championships.