Michelle’s Word

January 29, 2007

Mary’s Word / Gair y Mair

Filed under: Word games — Michelle Reid @ 11:46 am

I’ve named this blog “Michelle’s Word” for a number of reasons. The first is straightforward: I’m Michelle and this blog is a way for me to share some of the tricks I’ve picked up about using words.

It isn’t my definitive “word” on the subject, as language is slippery, ambiguous, and always flexible. We all continue to develop our own style of writing and have the freedom to break the rules and use whatever words work for us. There is no right way of writing, and I definitely don’t have the last word on this subject.

I chose the title “Michelle’s Word” because I believe words belong to us and we should all feel ownership of the language we use. You have the power to use your words in any way you like. I hope this blog gives you some inspiration on how to make words your own.

The other reason for calling this blog “Michelle’s Word” is as a thank you to my grandmother, Mary Reid. She inspired my love of language through the word games we played together when I was a child. She gave me the great gift of confidence to experiment with words.

Grandma’s most famous word game is “Gair y Mair” which translates from the Welsh as “Mary’s Word”. Recently, when I started investigating the title of this game for my blog, my family discovered the game is actually called “Gair y Ffair” or Word Exchange / Word Fair. We’ve been mispronouncing the name all these years, but it will forever be known as “Mary’s Word” to us because it’s one of the things we all identify with Grandma.

How to play Gair y Mair:

  • Create a word pool (this was always Grandma’s job). Find a selection of nouns from the dictionary and write each one on a small slip of paper. Fold the slips of paper up and put in a bowl / container.
  • Make some of the nouns obvious and some more tricky. The only restriction is they have to be concrete nouns (fish, elephant, omnibus) and not proper nouns (Windsor, David Beckham, Odeon).
  • The first player draws a word from the pool and looks at it. This is the target word.
  • The player has to convey this word to the rest of the players by association. They can’t mention their word directly; they can only use three related words as clues.
  • The clue words can be anything you like: Proper nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc. You are not limited to concrete nouns. The only restriction is you can’t use “rhymes with” as a clue. So if the target word was “grenade” you can’t say it sounds like “dismayed”.
  • The player gives the first clue word, and members of the audience try to guess the target word. If no-one guesses correctly, then the player gives the second clue word and the guesses begin again. If no-one manages to guess this time, the player uses their final clue word.
  • The points are given to both the player and the guesser, depending on when the word is guessed:

– Correct after 1 clue = 3 points each

– Correct after 2 clues = 2 points each

– Correct after 3 clues = 1 point each

  • Once the target word is guessed, the person who got it right takes a word from the pool and the round begins again. However, if nobody guesses correctly after the 3 clues, then the target word is revealed, no points are given, and the next person around the table takes a word from the pool.

If the target word is “scabbard”, you might give the clues: 1) sword 2) holder 3) sheath

If the target word is “gramophone” you might give the clues: 1) record 2) player 3) old

If you know the way your fellow players are likely to think, you can be more lateral and imaginative with the clues.

When we had my Uncle and cousins to stay, we’d often play a variation in pairs. In turn, one person in each pair would pick a word from the pool and then have to convey it to their partner. Then the roles would swap over, so the guesser would become the clue-giver.

It was fun to see how compatible the pairs were and how well we knew the mind of our partner.

Despite being well matched in many other ways, Mum and Dad were terrible as Gair y Mair partners, because Mum’s clues were always too oblique for Dad! And as for my Dad and his brother teaming up…that was never allowed, in order to prevent rampant competitiveness breaking out!

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