The spelling challenges in US foreign policy

Five-thousand new terms have recently been added to the Scrabble dictionary. Among the pop culture words that now count as legitimate Scrabble words: "selfie," "chillax," "texter," "funplex" and an assortment of other high-tech, lowbrow terms of endearment.

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We need a similar exercise for the Scrabble dictionary of U.S. foreign policy to reflect new terms and new acronyms.

A couple of my candidates for inclusion:

ISIS: The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Its definition is a terrorist group battling for control over certain pieces of territory in the Middle East. (This presumes you can define the geography of the Middle East and that you can foresee which territory ISIS might control.)

ISIL: The Islamic State of the Levant. Its definition is the same as above. We have conflicting acronyms — because, well, because we have conflict in the world. The president of the United States uses "ISIL." So does the United Nations. My guess is that we want to avoid the term "ISIS" because it implies a de facto acceptance that the "jihadists" are in control of certain countries.

Now, of course, all of this presumes that you are playing Scrabble foreign policy in English. The Arabic terms for ISIS and ISIL are Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya Fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. The problem is that such a phrase is well beyond seven letters. But it could certainly be worth a 50-point bonus if you spell it right.

While we are in Iraq, we should probably add "Erbil" and "Irbil" to the new dictionary. Both spellings show up in media reports and both refer to the largest city and capital of Kurdistan. But before you get comfortable with them as interchangeable parts, you should know that other more historical sources refer to Erbil or Irbil as Arbil! Fortunately, all three spellings start with vowels, of which there are too many, in my view, in Scrabble.

If you are still reading this piece, you have made it to Kurdistan, where you might encounter Yazidis. A Yazidi is a member of a mainly Kurdish-speaking religious group that has lived for centuries in the northern part of Iraq. By the end of the current crisis, we hope that there truly is an opportunity for Yazidi children to play games, whether Scrabble or another.

Let's face it: We would not be in this Scrabble mess if not for Syria, which was once "Assyria" and once belonged to Mesopotamia. President Bashar Assad has created a major wordplay scramble. If not for him, we would have much simpler proper noun problems — like Crimea and Kyiv — or Kiev.

Scrabble is almost 75 years old. It deserves a facelift and the inclusion of new words in its dictionary. Alas, the world is too complex to add foreign policy words. There are just too many new challenges and regions. It is good to know, however, that among the 5,000 new words for regular Scrabble is "frenemy," which might just come in handy.

Sonenshine is former under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently teaches at George Washington University in the School of Media and Public Affairs. She is also a frequent Scrabble player.

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