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The Wordle hype and the power of language

Over the last month, there’s been one word (pardon the pun) on everyone’s lips: Wordle. If you’ve had a conversation with basically anyone since the start of 2022, then you’ll know all about the language based guessing game.

What started off as a simple pastime for creator Josh Wardle and his partner has now taken over the English-speaking world, with thousands of players flocking to guess the daily five-letter word.

We know what you’re thinking: how did such a simple concept skyrocket to one of the internet’s biggest hypes? Surely there’s more to it than just merely guessing a word? But that’s the beauty of it – there’s not.

So, what does our obsession with such a simple word game say about the power of language, and the unexpected joy we can get from it? And does Wordle have more power than we might have initially thought? As a company of language-lovers, we thought we’d take a look…

What is Wordle, and who’s playing it?

The key ingredients to Wordle are as follows: a daily five-letter word; a free, easy-to-access website; and some coloured boxes.

Users have six attempts to guess the chosen word of the day (which is the same for all players everywhere in the world) with the help of the green, orange, and grey boxes which tell you whether the letter is in the word and in the correct position, in the word but needs to be moved, or not in the word at all. And that’s it.

Software engineer Josh Wardle created the game for him and his partner to play, using their love of crosswords as inspiration. After sharing Wordle with family, and then eventually making it available to the public in October 2021, the rest is history.

On Wordle’s ‘opening weekend’ at the beginning of November, a humble 90 players took a stab at the game. Fast forward two months, and there were over 300,000 players, a huge number that rocketed up to 2 million a week later. So, by the middle of January 2022, Wordle was a confirmed hype.

A key feature of the game that’s contributed to its success is its sharing function. Players can share their results, spoiler-free, by uploading them to social media or by sending them directly to friends. Between 1st and 13th January alone, a staggering 1.2 million Wordle results were shared to Twitter. Had doubts over the game’s popularity? You probably don’t anymore…

Clearly, Josh Wardle’s creation is an obsession amongst thousands of people. But besides the game’s simplicity and its ability to let us compete against our friends, what makes it so great? And what can it tell us about the power of language?

What we can learn from the Wordle obsession

As we mentioned, everyone seems to be talking about Wordle at the moment, which is only fuelled by the game’s unique sharing function, which helps spread the word further (not literally, of course – #nospoilers).

This hype is therefore prompting a conversation about language that hasn’t happened on such a huge scale, perhaps ever. Each day, we’re discussing words, language, vocabulary and spelling with our friends, and, honestly, how often were we doing this before? Thanks to Wordle, we’re thinking more about language and the words we use on a daily basis.

We’re learning that language can be fun. All too often, language and linguistics are passed off as ‘boring’ but, with the help of Wordle, a whole new demographic are learning about the beauty of language, and the enjoyment we can get from it.

Not to mention the fact that we’re expanding our vocabulary as we play. Not only are we racking our brains for every five letter word we’ve ever known, we’re also learning new ones along the way, helping to increase our enjoyment of the game. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, really, as playing helps improve our vocabulary, and the better our vocabulary, the better we are at playing.

As we brainstorm words that could be a possible solution, we start to think about how letters can be combined. “The ‘o’ doesn’t fit there, so can it go at the end? I have an ‘r’ in second place, so what can precede it?” Perhaps without us even noticing, we start to think about phonetics and begin noticing language rules and patterns. Who said learning couldn’t be fun?

Perhaps this is part of Wordle’s charm – you don’t need a linguistics degree or any special skills to play, but that doesn’t mean you won’t pick up a bit of language knowledge along the way. The simple concept has the “anyone can do this” appeal, and engaging with spelling and words can be highly addictive, leading to the super success Wordle is experiencing at the moment.

Let’s not forget that the game’s origins lay within a simple love of language. Wordle’s conception was inspired by crossword puzzles and other language-based guessing games and, with his creation, Josh Wardle has helped inspire this love of language within a whole new demographic.

The future of the game

Will we still be loading up Wordle and guessing the daily word every morning in a few years’ time? Who’s to say, but, for now, we’re enjoying the hype.

And it seems that so many people are enjoying this hype, that the Wordle love is now crossing language barriers. Developers are racing to get a piece of the action, and are working to develop foreign language versions of Wordle. Wordles of the World (Worldles, if you will) is a comprehensive listing of all versions of the game, containing 313 entries in 91 languages.

Not only are we seeing different language versions of the game, helping to spread the hype to all corners of the globe, we’re also seeing how Wordle could potentially help promote indigenous languages. Maui-based academic and language activist Keola Donaghy has created a Hawaiian language version of the game to mark the start of “Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i” (Month of the Hawaiian Language). With less than 24,000 native speakers, Wordle could help bring to light the importance of protecting endangered languages like Hawaiian.

It’s undeniable that, underneath all the hype, Wordle is fuelled by a simple love of language, and the work of translators and language-lovers everywhere is helping to spread this love around the world. Here at Matinée, we’re passionate about communication, and are thoroughly enjoying watching the Wordle hype spread, with more and more players understanding and appreciating the power of words.

Although we may not be translating the next hit version of Wordle into a multitude of languages, our translation services are second to none. We have over 30 years of experience in the industry, and our expert team are ready to translate your subtitles or voiceover script into your choice of 80+ languages. Why not get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you?

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