black and white book browse dictionary

By “Just” a Happiness Engineer.

It was just a fun way to pass the time and laugh.

My mom

I’ve started thinking about what I would talk about at WordCamp US if I were to give a talk. It spikes my thinking, heart rate, all the things to about a million miles an hour.

A talk in front of a bunch a people I don’t know? No thanks.

But… what if we play a game instead? Maybe I could lead that. A game. A word game.

It’s come and gone from my thoughts multiple times over the years, especially working for Automattic and supporting How we use and define words. And how they change over time.

I have such fond memories of the Dictionary Game.

Next, I’ll quickly share the questions I asked my mom about the Dictionary Game and how to play.

Then after some review, hopefully we’ll get to play.

Her reply to my email, screenshots below.

An image of an email from Louise Andrews to Anna (me).

The email reads:

Hey. I’ll go down the email and respond next to your words 😊
What were the dang rules of the Dictionary Game? I remember always having to find words that people were unlikely to know, and having to write one real copy of the definition, and everyone else made up a definition, and one person would then read them all and we'd like... vote somehow? On which one we thought was right.
That’s how I remember it.
I'm trying to come up with a talk for work and I think I might make people play the Dictionary Game instead. If I can sell it as something fun and educational and important. I think I can through conversation and curiosity.
Were there points in the game? Did someone win? 😆
Not that I remember. It was just a fun way to pass the time and laugh.
What were some funny answers you remember?
Don’t remember specifics, but it seemed they were usually just funny! I’ve seen articles referring to this game over the years. Maybe find them if you searched, but don’t know.
I also started a new art and research project (just in its infancy, don't judge lol) - (I'll probably write about it a bit on soon too, I'm thinking of using it all as a PhD project, for a PhD study of the web an human and artificial intelligence - not sure that exists, but I'll make it exists ha!).
How great!
Talk to you soon. Loves. :)

I know this was a funny way to reply, but yesterday I just finished a weeks worth of cleaning out and boxing my stuff and putting it in garage. Pooped!

She said here that I should look up references to the game online. I totally thought it was a game she/we invented. But maybe that was just a childhood illusion. Or there’s some “collective” invention or collective consciousness perhaps that co-invented the game. I dunno.

Then she shared a bit of personal info that we’ll skip over for this conversation. But she then shared her interpretation of my #whatfivewords? question.

A screenshot of the rest of the reply from Mom to me (Anna).

The email reads:

Thought you might be interested in my plans. ☺️ I’m loving hearing about you. My five word would be a distillation of something from the book Reviving Ophelia:  appreciation, affection, time together, resilience. That was what made healthy families; resilience was my substitution for “spiritual well-being, ability to handle stress and crisis”. 🥰

All my love,

So it seems the goal of the game, we kinda remember “just” being… have fun and laugh.

That’s my goal with the game. Have fun and laugh.

The Dictionary Game Rules

As I understand them currently.


  1. One person becomes the WordSmith.
  2. They select a word that everyone will define.
  3. With pencil and paper, every WordWeaver writes down a definition for the word. Including the WordSmith, writing the real definition.
  4. All definitions are given to the WordSmith.
  5. WordSmith reads definitions aloud. For laughs.
  6. Individuals make guesses on definitions. Round table discussion.
  7. WordSmith decides when conversation is over with the definitions and votes.
  8. WordSmith announces the “real” definition.
  9. Rotate.

There are no points. It’s just a game.

Want to play with me?

Send me comments directly via the form. Or leave a public comment below.

I could see this presentation/game and WordCamp US going something like this.

I introduce the game as I know it and the history. If you want more info, you can check these posts for history, lore, my experience, whatever.

We are all sitting at round tables when we enter the room. Those tables start the game after my introduction.

If we have an hour total. Say my intro takes 10 minutes (it probably won’t), we set a 40 minute limit on the game. It can end whenever because there is no winner, and if you don’t finish a round, we can post about it on a P2 documenting and exploring the game. Or you can have real conversations after my 10 minute wrap up about any unfinished games. Or both.

Review rules. Supplies already on tables.

Ready set go, type thing.

The tables have to decide, each in their own way how to elect the first WordSmith. A simple rule could be… the youngest at the table picks the first word to define. The elected WordSmith flips through a dictionary and finds. a word they want to play with. The WordWeavers write their own definition. And the game proceeds.

Let 40 minutes pass.

Ring a bell or something. And we come back together for a 10 minute session to post on a P2 that I’ve created while we played and explored. You can add comments now, or later. It’s just an exploration.

A main question I have for the audience at this point, is did this inspire creativity?


Where does it go next?


Update, 1:16pm, two hours and 19 minutes after I published this. My mom emailed me back and let me know about Fictionary. I loved the info and history. Totally thought we invented the game in my family.

I loved the information about the online Dixonary game too.

A version of the game called Dixonary has been running online since July 4, 1989, for the first fifteen years on CompuServe in its Tapcis Forum. It is believed that this game is the longest-running on-line game, and has run for more than 3,075 rounds. In May 2005, the game moved to its own website when CompuServe disconnected the forum. Since May 2007 it has been played in a Google Group, and has a support site at, which has an archive of the game that goes back, with minor gaps, to its inception in 1989.


I’ll need to do some more reading!

I also asked my mom when she thought I started playing the game. I wanted to know how young I might have been. She said they used to play it with my older brother, Criss, who is almost six years older than me. So she guessed I might have watched them play before I could read or write.

Maybe that’s part of the reason I love laughter and words.

I remember it from my early days with the Dictionary Game.

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