I haven’t given the demographics of Like Fire readers a lot of thought, although maybe now as we enter our third year I ought to start. For instance, I imagine there are a good number of etymologically inclined souls who, every once in a while, like to browse the dictionary just for the fun of it. I also imagine there are a lot of people reading this who enjoy a drink; it’s a jolly sort of blog. And if I were to recommend a destination for the intersection of those two subsets—and I’m guessing it might be a pretty broad swath—my first pick would be the War of the Words Tournament.
The fevered inspiration of Rich Zeroth, the War of the Words Tournament combines the bracketing frenzy of March Madness NCAA basketball with a certain kind of lettered geekiness, kind of like the Tournament of Books but on a more… visceral level. Zeroth, also known as the Commissioner, selects the 64 words that will make up the Tournament bracket and announces them at a live show. Entries are judged by a complicated algorithm that I imagine only he understands completely, a synthesis of a word’s literal definition, implied definition, versatility, frequency of usage, degree of positive/negative connotation, phonetic punch, originality, alphabetic arrangement, and something called the Overall W.o.W Factor, which remains to be determined. The days leading up to the bracket announcement are rife with all sorts of suspense, with a discussion of “bubble words,” which could go either way, on the Tournament’s blog. And the final word profiles are not to be missed. Take, for instance, the Number 3-seeded word in the Three-Syllable Region, smithereens:
A shame that this ear-pleaser isn’t utilized more often. Sure the word has a band to call its own as well as a movie but so does the word “traffic” for crying out loud. Big deal. Fact of the matter is, if you happen to catch this word being uttered in a nearby conversation you best slide your chair in that direction because something catastrophic is being discussed as “smithereens” isn’t a word used anywhere near “loofah brush,” “nap,” or “slide rule.”
Literal definition: 10
Implied definition: 6
Frequency of usage: 4
Degree of positive/negative connotation: 9.5
Phonetic punch: 9
Originality of alphabetic arrangement: 7.5
Overall W.o.W. Factor: N/A
Enthusiasts are then invited to submit their brackets via the War of the Words site or their Facebook page, and the winner receives an oversized check—just like Publishers Clearinghouse—which is presumably worth $100. But more important is the spirit of the competition, and the spirits that accompany its proceedings. Has bibulous been a contender? Or is it too close to 2008’s winner, bulbous? At any rate, for anyone who’s feeling like their fantasy football leagues haven’t been quite hardcore enough lately, I can only quote the Commissioner:
Ever seen the letter “f” used as a shiv? (Shiv—2012 tournament contender) Seen a “w” beaten down to a single u? In the War of the Words Tournament, the very best vocabulary dig deep, using every last syllable, every letter in their arsenal (Arsenal—2012 tournament contender, and bloody good football club!) to battle their brethren (Brethren—2012 tournament contender) in the ultimate argument for word supremacy!
There’s a trailer below, to get you in the mood. (via Hayden’s Ferry Review blog.)