Monday, September 25, 2006

Of oghams and arrovos

OGHAM, or ogam, is found in between ogee and ogive. I was really looking for zobo but could not find it in the colony of zoarium, zoea, zonate.

Still disbelieving, I searched for ogive and found myself in the prickly company of other strangers: ogee, ogham, ogive, ohia.

Strangest of all, these exotics brushed up against me while I was wading in a pool of words found in an old, and previously thought of as familiar, Webster’s Dictionary.

Perhaps wading is the wrong choice. The New York Times News Service recently reported that arcane acrobatics ruled the eighth World Scrabble Championships.

“In the end, the zobo and the ogive could not quite triumph over the qanat and the euripi.” A Thai architect was birsled—Scottish for scorched or toasted—by a mathematician from Canada in the final playoff.

Contenders for the high-stakes prize of $15,000 relied on tactics such as knowledge of the abstruse and skill in usage, like applying q’s without u’s.

This arsenal did not apparently include understanding what the word stood for.

Filed the New York Times, “language divorced itself from meaning.”

The national champion of Trinidad and Tobago—a former teacher and accountant—commented that meaning may be important for the player’s personal development but not “for the purpose of the game.”

My Scrabble ambitions never went beyond using q or x for a triple-letter score. But if I were to play for fame or gain, I suspect that the letter tiles ranged on my rack will form a familiar word, not a stranger picked up from the anonymous lineup in a dictionary.

Even silent persons must hold inside them words they like for their feel. Words rasp or sooth, not just due to the arrangement of letters and their rhythms but from the grain of their associations.

Do we summon words we have never met? Even our mistakes, it is said, invoke the self, just disguised.

While the World Scrabble contenders carried out their English of expediency in London, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) circulated newly printed P100 bills that contained a misspelling.

Arrovo instead of Arroyo: the loss of a tail in a v that should have been a y.

Will the infinitesimally small bring low the infinitely powerful?

Aside from collectors that may wish to keep a specimen—only 1,000 of the bank notes were released before the BSP discovered the mistake—the opposition has done its best to milk the printing error.

Unlike the Scrabble champions though, the opposition contends that meaning is everything in a word, even in the lapsed ones.

Thus, Arrovo has been deconstructed as implying robber in Spanish (robar, as in rovo de la cuadrilla that means robbery in band), as well as in Japanese (dorobou, describing thief or burglar).

Opposition lawmakers said that the misspelled bank notes will be constant reminders of the accusations of “cheating, lying and stealing” made against the President in 2004.

The gentlemen may have a future in semantics, but probably not in fortune-telling.

Thus far, the Arrovo printing error has not become a national joke. It may be because many of us are unfamiliar with Spanish and Japanese, and do not appreciate the opposition gentlemen’s great efforts at research and relevance.

Only what’s familiar can tickle the funny bone, the political bone, the bone of memory.

To someone like me, ogham is just a dictionary entry, five tiles in Scrabble strategy. One needs to be Gaelic to envision this ancient alphabet using notches for vowels and lines for consonants, etched on rough standing tombstones.

Arrovo might mean what it means in Spanish and Japanese. As a Filipino, I’ll take its correctly spelled cousin as it stands for very much the same thing in my own tongue.

Outside of Scrabble, meaning is just everything.

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