Whether you play Scrabble or not, this Stefan Fatsis piece for Slate is a good read if you like words, and I know you do: “It started at dinner two Saturdays ago, where the conversation turned, as it does at tournaments, to words that were played that day and words that were not…”

I got the link via MetaFilter, where potrzebie made a comment I can’t resist sharing here:

Once when I was playing Words with Friends with someone I was telling them about how my family’s Scrabble games always go off the rails and recounted this one specific dubious word my sister clearly made up and played, hoping it was real, and we challenged it but it turned out it was in fact real, and as a direct consequence she won the game.

Not five minutes later my friend played that dubious word. Six letter word, none of the letters super rare, but still, come on. My friend hadn’t heard the word before and I just handed off the exact word they needed to use most of their tiles a couple rounds later.

This has to have been ten years ago now and I still get all these feelings every time I think about it. Scrabble is fkn wild.

(The next comment was “And the word was..?” but potrzebie hasn’t responded yet.)


  1. Is “potrzebie” Polish for “necessity”? Looks like it. I think I’ve seen it before.

  2. Potrzebie? Mad Magazine!


  3. Potrzebie is the dative and locative singular form of the Polish noun potrzeba ‘need, necessity’.

  4. But in this case it’s probably the Mad usage that is relevant. (I thought I had seen a comment she made on the site about that, but it turns out I imagined it.)

  5. Since Mad Magazine was correctly mentioned in Mike Chisholm’s comment above and in several comments here https://languagehat.com/nov-shmoz-ka-pop/, I was reacting to V’s question above (“Is “potrzebie” Polish for “necessity”?”). I should have added references to those comments by way of introduction to my explanation of the form of the Polish noun.

  6. Ah, of course — sorry, I was distracted and ignoring context. My bad.

  7. I conjecture that some Mad editor found potrzebie on a product label (does it appear in the usual expression for “as needed”?) and was tickled by it.

  8. WP:

    Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman spotted the word printed in the Polish language section of a multi-languaged “Instructions for Use” sheet accompanying a bottle of aspirin, and Kurtzman, who was fascinated with unusual words, decided it would make an appropriate but meaningless background gag. After cutting the word out of the instruction sheet, he made copies and used rubber cement to paste “Potrzebie” randomly into the middle of Mad satires.

  9. bushveld has reminded me of marula/maroela:

    Sclerocarya birrea (Ancient Greek: σκληρός {sklērós}, “hard”, and κάρυον {káryon}, “nut”, in reference to the stone inside the fleshy fruit), commonly known as the marula, is a medium-sized deciduous fruit, indigenous to the miombo woodlands of Southern Africa, the Sudano-Sahelian range of West Africa, the savanna woodlands of East Africa and Madagascar.

  10. I know marula mostly Amarula, which is a South African cream liqueur. I drank several servings of it when it was one of the main offering when I was flying on KLM—because of Dutch speaker solidarity, I guess? Actually, come to think of it, I guess I actually switched to drinking Amarula on the international leg of that trip because I had reached my limit for drinking harder stuff on the first, domestic leg; the airline having screwed me over by canceling my flight the previous day, they upgraded me—not to first class, but to the seats in the front of coach for which the alcohol was free.

  11. There is some stronger stuff distilled from maroela. among other fruits:

    The Irish can have their Black Pot, let the Portuguese indulge in their Grappa, the German’s in their Schnapps and the Americans in their Moonshine. In South Africa we have Mampoer! It is a firey spirit, truly indigenous to South Africa- no other spirit elsewhere in the world may be called Mampoer. Available in peach, maroela, litchi and cherry flavours.

    Hakkiesdraad Mampoer is distilled (gestook) in a potstill to the highest purity using the traditional double distillation method. There is no sweetening or fortification with any cane sugar. The exceptional smoothness and unique flavour is derived from a lengthy and gentle copper distillation and separation of a clean middle cut or heart, says distiller Moritz Kallmeyer.


  12. The Irish can have their Black Pot, let the Portuguese indulge in their Grappa

    I was sure this was going to be a quote from Mason & Dixon.

  13. potrzebie reminds me of Bulgarian потреба (necessity), and also требник, the lowest of priests’ book of prayers.

  14. Trond Engen says

    I was sure it was the first line of a parodic song. Then the Germans came and spoiled it by not being funny.

  15. And also требва/трѣбва/трябва ми (I need that). “Потрѣбва ми [verb clause]”, OTOH means something like “I suddenly found myself in need of X”.

  16. “Six letter word, none of the letters super rare”

    The author should really have said what the word was, but from those hints I get the impression that the play was probably unwise. By all means dump your super rare letters for the points and the expected improvement in your rack. Or play your whole rack for the bonus. But not six nice tiles.

  17. A good point that hadn’t occurred to me. But the friend obviously couldn’t resist the synchronicity.

  18. Playing a six-letter word is almost always only five tiles.

  19. > “The Irish can have their Black Pot, let the Portuguese indulge in their Grappa, ”

    No – the Portuguese can’t indulge in their Grappa! Grappa has to come from Italy or the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

    Apparently the Portuguese can call it “bagaço”.

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