N-U-B-B-E-R. Nubber. A weakly hit baseball. A word Mathematics and Computer Science Teacher Mark Fidler helped add to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2018 after learning that it didn’t officially exist.
In 2005, Mr. Fidler and a friend, Scott Leifer, attended the National Scrabble Championship for the 20th summer in a row. Playing against a man who wasn’t fluent in the English language but knew the vocabulary, Mr. Leifer had an opportunity to play the word “snubber,” which would have earned him about 75 points. However, Mr. Leifer wanted to take advantage of the fact that he was sitting across from a non-native speaker, who probably didn’t know American baseball terms, and played the word “nubbers” instead.
“He had likely never heard the word ‘nubber,’ something that has been in my regular vocabulary since I was 6 or 7 years old,” Mr. Leifer said.
As predicted, Mr. Leifer’s opponent challenged the word, but not as predicted, the word “nubbers” was not found in the English dictionary, he said.
“I got burned by assuming a phrase was an acceptable Scrabble word just because I heard the term in real life,” Mr. Leifer said.
“I was shocked,” Mr. Fidler added. “I’ve been hearing that word for my whole life.”
After the tournament, Mr. Fidler went home and Googled “nubber,” only to find thousands of results. He then wrote to the Merriam Webster-Dictionary company, citing over 50 references to “nubbers” on ESPN’s website.
They responded with a letter explaining “nubbers” wasn’t a common word.
“ESPN is a major national website,” Mr. Fidler said. “It’s not like some kid in their basement was writing things and just making stuff up—that’s a major legitimate media source.”
Mr. Fidler was surprised to find “nubbers” on this year’s list of words added to the dictionary, which was distributed on Scrabble websites and online discussion groups, but more surprised the addition took 13 years, he said.
“Listen to any baseball game on the radio from start to end,” Mr. Fidler said, “and I’m certain that you’re going to hear ‘nubbers’ at least two or three times—this is a common word, trust me.”
Softball player Zoë Dodge ’22, who said the word “nubber” is used often in baseball and softball, also expressed surprise that the word wasn’t in the dictionary before this year.
“You definitely know the term if you play the sport,” she said.
Mr. Fidler said he suspects sports-related vocabulary takes longer to be added to the dictionary than other words.
“There’s a prejudice,” he said. “My belief is that people who write dictionaries tend not to be sports fans—they tend to be real intellectuals, who are probably fans of the arts much more than sports.”
Still, Mr. Fidler said, it is exciting to have played a part in adding a word—even if it did result from his friend’s misfortune.
“That’s the story of ‘nubbers,’” Mr. Fidler said, “from my friend tragically losing the turn and costing him the game—for an everyday word.”