How has Scrabble changed over time?

A for Anton, B for Berta: The German spelling board has a history of around 130 years, in which the darker chapters have also left their mark. DIN 5009 - the standard in which the spelling table is also recorded - is currently being fundamentally revised. Anton, Berta, Caesar and their friends should soon be a thing of the past. A working committee has developed new proposals - and will use city names instead of first names for the future.

15 experts from the fields of education, training, the insurance industry and postal companies work in the committee for DIN 5009. Every five years they check by default whether the standard is still up-to-date and meets all requirements. Last year, the anti-Semitism commissioner of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Michael Blume, as well as the Central Council of Jews, demanded that some letters be changed. Many first names of Hebrew origin were deleted from the tablet during the Nazi era. David, Jacob, Nathan, Samuel and Zacharias, for example, were replaced by Dora, Jot, Nordpol, Siegfried and Zeppelin. Not all changes made by the National Socialists were reversed after 1945: "N for North Pole", for example, is still in use today.

But the committee experts do not want to simply go back to the old list from the time of the Weimar Republic. Together with Michael Blume, they have developed a new proposal that wants to do without first names and use city names. "This decision was made because it is very difficult with a spelling table with first names to adequately reflect the cultural diversity of the German population," says Julian Pinnig, spokesman for the German Institute for Standardization (DIN).

The dark story should not be forgotten

But: is the spelling board still being used? It was originally developed for telephone communication; the first list of this type was printed in a Berlin telephone directory. In the times of e-mail or WhatsApp, it is of course "less important in everyday life than it is today," says Pinnig. Nevertheless, it still often happens that file numbers or customer numbers have to be communicated by telephone in an understandable manner. The spelling board continues to play a major role, especially in training in commercial professions, where it is included in textbooks. In professions that place a strong focus on oral communication, it is also regularly used in tasks for final exams.

In the future, Nuremberg, Neuss, Norderstedt or Neum├╝nster could be queried there instead of Nathan and North Pole. The Committee of Experts plans to publish a revised draft standard in autumn 2021. This can then initially also be commented on by the public. The dark story of Nathan and Co. should not be completely forgotten. Symbolically, the list of the Weimar period is to be published as an addition to the new proposal.

It can still take a while for the city names to become established: "After the comment phase and possible changes have been taken into account, DIN 5009 should then be published in mid-2022," reports DIN. And that is how long the North Pole will remain a part of the spelling table.