On the Point Game, Linguistically

I have always loved language.

My mom tells me that even before I could talk, she would peek into my bedroom after nap time, to find me in my crib, holding a book (this was the 80s, and I wasn’t about to smother myself on a book, I’m assuming), turning the pages and babbling to myself in baby talk, but with the correct intonations as though I were telling the story.

I began writing my first (only?) novel at the age of 10, when I typed 50 pages of a story about a girl who finds a secret door under a bridge in her local park and gets transported back to ancient Egypt, where she must solve a mystery and save the world. One day, after much time spent researching so as to avoid any anachronistic insertions into my story, I decided that I hated it, and promptly deleted the file. My adult self would give nearly anything to read those 50 pages now, and I’m disappointed in small Katie for her abrupt and reckless decision making.

In high school, during my stint as a tortured poet (or the state of being that most of you would refer to as “being a teenager”), I wrote a few marvelous poems, and mostly garbage ones. One, which I disseminated to my entire AP English class, included the word “urethral.” I meant to say “ethereal” and to this day, I cringe when I think about it.

This brings me to a game that my friend Jacob and I created, and which really is the best game in existence: It’s called the Point Game. Every time you use a word incorrectly, but the meaning/intent is clear (or even if your word is used incorrectly and the meaning is completely unclear), you get a point.

Points are not good. You don’t want to be accumulating points. A point receiver can argue the point with the point giver, usually with no great success, and a point receiver can outright reject a point, but it doesn’t change the fact that they did in fact receive a point. It’s a lighthearted game with no real consequences or score. We enjoy ourselves and the resulting linguistic discussions immensely.

The best example of this is actually one of the things that brought about the Point Game. A drunk woman in a bar was angry at a man, and she shouted at him, “A diatribe of women will come after you!” Diatribe is defined as: “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something.” So, point.

I always call it James Joyce-ing, but I love to make up my own words and massage language and punctuation to suit my needs, and I respect anyone who can masterfully manipulate (or rather, renaissance) language to suit their intent.

The point game is also an excellent opportunity to evaluate your own use of language. Part of why I love working with kids is because they force me to critically think about my own perceptions of the world, and the hardest thing is when children ask you to explain an intangible concept, like luck, for example. But how many words do I use regularly that I don’t actually know what they mean? Sometimes, I’ve got a pretty good idea, so I just go for it, but it’s a nice reminder that you can (and will) be wrong or misinformed.

The point game is not about mocking poor use of language; it’s about learning and reaffirming your own abilities to understand the meanings of words. It’s all about learning how to renaissance words to effectively communicate your intended meaning, even if you’re not quite hitting the mark. Besides, it’s fun and it keeps you on your toes.

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