Why I Do Not Play Wordle

by John Ellis

I’m not going to explain what Wordle is because if you don’t already know what it is I’m not sure how you’re reading this article because you obviously don’t have internet access. And, no doubt, like me, Wordle is everywhere in your life. It’s all over my Facebook newsfeed and it’s in my house; my wife and daughter both play it, and my son wants to play it. Many, if not most, of my friends play it. I, however, do not play it. I also frequently field the question, “Do you play Wordle, Joh?” inevitably followed up by, “Why not!?! It seems like something you’d do.”[1]

Well, I don’t, as I’ve already confessed. And to serve as a blanket explanation that I can point people to (or head them off at the pass, so to speak), I’m going to explain why I do not engage in a cultural phenomenon that seems to provide enjoyment for the vast majority of the people in my life.

Before providing my reason for why I do not play Wordle, though, I want to preface it by saying: If you enjoy playing Wordle, then, by all means, enjoy playing Wordle – not that you need my permission. But what some of you may need to hear is that my reason for not playing Wordle doesn’t imply that I think you’re wrong for playing it. Nor does it imply that I believe you’re wasting your time. You may be wrong for playing it, and you may be wasting your time. However, my reason for not playing does not necessitate either of those being true. Play Wordle with thanksgiving in your heart, and if what I do or don’t do and my reasons for doing or not doing carries enough existential weight to cause you any level of angst, then stop reading and go do something else.

I don’t play Wordle because it sounds boring to me. And it sounds boring to me because it’s (mostly) contentless. Here’s what I mean:

Words – signs for things – are not things in and of themselves. Words do not ontologically carry value and meaning. Allow me to explain. For starters, and I’m cribbing this from another article I wrote, the difference between meaning and value in language is conceptually difficult to distill in a pithy sentence or two. But I’ll try. While the terms are not synonymous, value is part of meaning but meaning is not part of value. Meaning is the sign culture assigns to the signified. For example, an example that almost every linguist I’ve read uses, the sign/word “horse” refers to a horse, but only because “we” say so; it doesn’t have to. But it does; the sign/word “horse” refers to the thing we think of when we say or hear the sign/word. Value is what you, the reader, attribute to the sign/word “horse.” Your value of “horse” has been shaped by variables, some of which will be unique to you. Maybe you grew up on a horse ranch. While there is a value for “horse” that all English speakers (should) share barring cognitive deficiencies or cultural isolation, there are aspects to the value of “horse” that are unique to an individual who grew up on a ranch and inaccessible to those of us who didn’t grow up on a horse ranch. The philosopher John Searle uses the example of a forest. When I say forest, my value is imbued with the shapes, sounds, smells, and my experiences from playing in the loplolly forests of the Florida Panhandle. If I tell a friend from Northern California how much fun my brother and I had playing in the forest behind our house when we were kids, my friend has a mostly shared meaning of “forest” with me, and even some shared value. But some, if not much, of our respective values regarding “forest” are going to be different, possibly even quite different. This doesn’t mean that I can’t communicate truth to him. It means that some of the truth (truth = my experiences, emotions, responses, etc. in regards to the value of “forest”) will be inaccessible to him.

All that to say, a game that (mostly) extracts signs/words from their meaning and value is (mostly) contentless. To help understand that, think of the contrast between Wordle and a crossword puzzle. In Wordle, the player is being asked to think of signs/words based on letters (which also neither contain value nor meaning innately). The player’s brain is simply flipping through files containing abstracted words. Crossword puzzles, on the other hand, ask the player to pull words out of their brain’s memory files based on learned meaning and values. Hence, as opposed to crossword puzzles, Wordle is (mostly) contentless which causes me to conclude that it would be a boring waste of my time.  

The astute reader will have picked up on my use of the qualifier “(mostly)” every time I’ve thrown Wordle under the linguistic and philosophy of language bus. That’s because the brain cannot operate in a vacuum. So, when the brain is confronted with the word “cleat,” to randomly pick a word, the brain also extracts the meaning and values the word “cleat” carries for the player. As a kid, I used to try and think nothing, which I understand is somewhat different. I believe, though, that it provides conceptual help. It’s impossible to think nothing. In conclusion, I will admit that there are probably neurological studies demonstrating that games like Wordle helpfully carve out neuropathways in the player’s brain. However, I’m also sure that other neurological studies demonstrate that those same neuropathways are carved out via other activities. In other words, the deepening of my brain is not missing out by not playing Wordle. …. Although, as I write this, I’m remembering a study I read about a year ago explaining how the reading of maps carves out neuropathways in ways that no other activity does. Neuroscientists are curious how the evolution of the human brain is going to be affected by the prevalence of GPS. So, maybe I should play Wordle. I’ll need to see some studies first, though.


[1] I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to determine if “into” or “in to” was the correct preposition or adverb/preposition use in the sentence, “It seems like something you’d really be into/in to. I gave up, obviously.

3 thoughts on “Why I Do Not Play Wordle

    1. It feels backwards to me, too. It’s like a speed bump every time I read it.

      This may help (it helps me): If the meaning IS the signified, we’d have to have complete access to the signified. We don’t (at least, I don’t believe we do), so the signifier *we* choose is the cultural “meaning” (how we signify) the signified.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So it’s like translation or learning a foreign language in school … “cheval” means “horse” … etc. I can see it but it’s a switch from how I usually think about it.

        Liked by 1 person

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