Here’s what Thanksgiving traditionally brings to mind: an appreciation for family, stuffing, turkey, football, pie and Alka-Seltzer.
This year, however, my waist and my reference points for the holiday have expanded. This year I’m adding thanks for grilled chestnuts and turkey necks, a balmy walk to Rosewood Beach followed by a rain-soaked dash home, and the introduction into my life of Gresham’s Law, oik, konak, hendeca, Zonda and tierce.
That’s right. Three historic things happened at my parents’ house this Thanksgiving. First, sixteen of us sat around the family room after dinner and played a game. Second, nobody cheated. And third, nobody cried. We are growing up.
So what’s the ideal game for a group of psychotically competitive people ranging in age from 15 to 81? Dictionary. And, in order to accommodate the one member of our family with special needs, we played in teams. (Note: I hate being cagey and indirect, obliquely alluding to the requirement for special assistance. So let me be blunt: my sister Betsy had a little orthopedic surgery three days ago. She sat through Thanksgiving with the beatific smile only Norco can induce. She needed a teammate.)
Back to the game. It’s simple, assuming you live in a house that still has a physical, three-dimensional, last-century book called a dictionary. For those too young to need Botox or Depends, a dictionary is a relic from a bygone era. A long time ago, before e-readers and iPhones and ubiquitous screens, people used to talk to each other in person. And they used to use things called real words. And sometimes people wrote things down on paper, using old-fashioned tools called pens and pencils. And sometimes, not often but sometimes, people couldn’t remember how to spell words, or what some words meant. And in those circumstances, people would turn to this book called a dictionary.
Never mind all that history. The point is, if you are lucky enough to have one of these antiques in your house, or your grandparents’ house, then you can play the game. The idea is for a single team to select a word from the dictionary, ask the people playing whether or not they know its definition, and then, working with a single unknown word, have teams write their own faux definition while the original team writes down the actual definition. Still with me? Then all the definitions are read aloud, and people vote on which one they think is authentic.
A little wine was involved and I confess we never settled on how to score the game. Some teams got points for correctly identifying the right definition, and some got points when others voted for their invented definitions. But it got confusing and I want to say this: for once, it didn’t matter. The huddled conversations in hushed tones interrupted by peals of laughter and covert glances and hurried scribbling… well, nothing the Patriots and the Jets were doing on the field compared to the strategic plays and creative decoys being executed in our family room. We had fun.
Well, we had fun Thursday evening. At 4:30 a.m. on Friday, when my brain decided to go over the list of newly acquired vocabulary, I didn’t feel quite as enthusiastic about the game. I figured the thing I should do is share my knowledge, spreading edification and insomnia in equal measures, like so many English teachers before me.
So go ahead, play the game. Below is an abbreviated version of the Schwartz Family’s Thanksgiving 2012 Game of Dictionary. The definitions printed here… well, virtually printed here, are culled from the actual game we played. Yes, I did indeed drive over to my parents’ house at dawn on Friday and retrieve our scraps of paper from the recycling bin. That 4:30 a.m. brain could only recall so much, after all.
Good luck. No pressure. And for the record, though we didn’t really keep score, my dad and I won.
Round #1: hendeca
- an 18th century Asian term for a group of Mongols traveling on the Silk Road
- a gathering of ten people – usually men, often used in the context of religion
- a combining form meaning eleven
Round #2: Gresham’s Law
- a 19th century law regarding the rights of the landowners with fields adjacent to the railroads developed by the British judge Lord John Gresham
- the theory holding that if two kinds of money in circulation have the same denominational value but different intrinsic values, the money with the higher intrinsic value will be hoarded and eventually driven out of circulation by the money with the lesser intrinsic value
- the phenomenon introduced by the 18th century philosopher Bertrand Gresham, stating that the advancement of any given society is inversely proportional to its semantic sophistication
Round #3: konak
- a large house or mansion in Turkey
- the nut found in northern Russia, having a hard shell and a distinctive sweet flavor
- an Eskimo seal skin kayak used for carrying blubber
Round #4: oik
- an old Icelandic term, designating the first seal sighted in the spring
- a small seagoing vessel
- British slang for a member of the lower classes as one who tends to pronounce an “i” sound as an “oy”
Round #5: tierce
- a division into thirds, used in reference to folded fabrics
- an old measure of capacity equivalent to one third of a pipe, or 42 wine gallons
- a poetic rhythm, common in early English ballads
Round #6: Zonda
- a hot, oppressive wind in the Argentine pampas
- a small song bird found only on the north island of New Zealand
- WW I slang for a downed German Messerschmitt
(Answers: 3,2,1,3,2,1) Happy Thanksgiving!