This week’s word is brought to you by the letters S, C, R, A, B, B, L and E. Scrabble is a funny game because though it’s ostensibly about words, ultimately it’s a numbers game. A game in which a lovely word will be heartlessly cast aside in favour of one which will yield a higher score. In my opinion, this week’s word is not lovely in the conventionally aesthetic sense. It is however interesting and capable of netting a decent Scrabble score.
As a rule numbers are not what motivate me when I play Scrabble, but after a recent experience I can see the value in having a few sneaky ‘Z’ words up your sleeve. (‘Z’, along with ‘Q’ is the highest scoring letter, worth 10 points).
So, enough futzing around. On to the point of this week’s entry, which is twofold. One: to explain the meaning and origins of futz, and two: to introduce you to the world of Scrabble point-scoring joy which will be yours once you expand your knowledge of English words of Yiddish/Hebraic descent.
First thing’s first. Futz is both a noun and a verb, so you can tell a futz to stop futzing around: fiddling with something – perhaps files or wires or the ribbon on a typewriter – without accomplishing anything. Possibly even without the intention of accomplishing anything. With the word ‘futzing’ comes a sense of ineptitude or vagueness, of taking a lot of time and achieving little.
To say someone is futzing around kind of invalidates his or her actions. Take for example the old man who spends every Sunday afternoon in the garage tending to his Harley which hasn’t been ridden (nor started) for thirty years. His wife and kids tell him to stop futzing around (without understanding the personal significance of the ritual – but that’s another story). Or the lawyer who charges by the hour and spends 40% of that time futzing around with their facebook profile. Or the student who rearranges all the pens on their desk just so before finally starting that essay. Life’s full of futzes futzing around.
Why do I feel like I’m being naughty when I write that?! And more importantly, why is it worth getting to know ‘futz’? Here are four reasons:
1. Interesting and contested origins
The first explanation I found for the origin of ‘futz’ was: ‘1930-35. Possibly blend of fuck and putz’. I wasn’t super happy with this, so I looked further and came across this:
Now that’s more interesting. The Yiddish word meaning ‘to fart’. Far more exotic. I also found references to the German verb ‘furzen’, meaning the same thing. So in fact ‘futzing around’ is pretty much the same as ‘farting around’, but European and therefore sophisticated 😉
2. Because NYC says so
Yidioms (Yiddish idioms) such as ‘futz’ are all the rage in New York, evidently the birthplace of all things hip and happening.
3. It will help you to use your ‘Z’ in Scrabble
If you haven’t played Scrabble before, or you are better at it than me, you may not find this useful, but I have noticed that English words derived from Yiddish or Hebrew are a treasure trove of ‘Z’ words. I am convinced that having a working knowledge of these words will pick up your game. To that end, here is a brief list of words whose validity I have verified– thanks to Steph and Olle for alerting me to that necessity 🙂
Chalutz – a member of a congregation of immigrants to Kibbutzim. 21 points.
Kibbutz – a collective farm or settlement in modern Israel. 24 points.
Kibbitz – 1. To chat or converse. 2. To offer meddlesome advice. 24 points.
Klezmer – Jewish folk music played traditionally by itinerant Eastern European bands. 22 points.
Mitzvah – A commandment of Jewish law. 24 points.
Plotzed – To be overwhelmed by an emotion. 16 points.
Tzaddik – One who acts justly or righteously. 22 points.
Zikkurat/ziggurat – A temple tower of the Babylonians or Assyrians. 25 points.
This next one will score you a bonus 50 points for using all your letters – now that’s chutzpah! (Audacity). 27 + 50 points: not bad.
So we have learned what futz means, where it comes from and how to use it. We have learned several other words containing ‘Z’ to be used while playing Scrabble. We haven’t really broached the issue of restoring futz to the streets beyond NYC, but I think I’ll leave that in the capable hands of Woody Allen and his contemporaries, whose track record in the area of Yidiom advocacy is admirable.
In peace and wordliness 🙂