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By Tom Sloper
July 24, 2016

Column #656

American Mah Jongg (NMJL card). "Hold" and "call waiting" were terms used in telephony, or so I thought. But there are players who use the term "hold" to mean "I'll take that tile," and that's just wrong. I've had a lot of students ask me about this. I don't know if it's just an L.A. thing, or if it's nationwide.

There are two things to discuss here: the English language, and American mah-jongg terminology. No, three things: etiquette also needs to be discussed.

The English language meaning of the word "hold"
"Hold" means "pause," or "wait." Nothing in the word indicates "I desire to take that object" or "I am collecting that kind of object." So, while I have heard the term "hold" used a lot in mah-jongg, it was never used to mean those things until recently. In the not-so-distant past, the term "hold" (when used during a mah-jongg game) was used to mean "everybody pause for a moment while I decide if I wish to take that discard... or not." Heck, I even played with a man who, nervous to be among the supposedly fearsomely skilled players of my group, would shout "STOP!" whenever a discard went out that he needed to think about (and it seemed sometimes that every other discard met that criterion). It jarred us all terribly, causing hearts to jump and nerves to fray. But I'm going off topic.

The correct American mah-jongg terminology
The League rarely issues new rules, but they did issue one this year. On the 2016 card, it expressly says that players must verbalize the call, saying (for example), "call," "take," "I want that," etc. These specified terms clearly communicate the claim for the discard. "Hold" does nothing of the kind. You want to take a discard? You're required to say so.

It's best to be decisive, and say "I'll take that," but it might not be unreasonable (occasionally) to request a moment to think. You want the rest of us to wait while you decide if you want to make that call or not; that's understandable. You can say "hold" (or "stop" or "wait") once in a while, but then you need to say either "I'll take that" or "never mind."

This column is part 6 of an occasional series on "words." See also columns 353, 460, 463, 477, and 502.

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Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book about the American game, including official rules not included in the official rulebook. AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the official rulebook from the NMJL (see FAQ 3).

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