Please click here if you do not see a Nav Frame at left and Header Frame above - you'll need them!


By Tom Sloper
July 25, 2010

Column #460

What's in a word? When it comes to communicating thoughts or concepts with one another, words are everything. There are some mah jongg words that can be used in multiple ways. I often get confused when people tell me about some situation they encountered in a game, and use ambiguous words. In column #353 I talked about the multiple confusing ways players of American mah jongg use the terms "steal" and "call."

To me, picking refers strictly to taking a tile from the wall. People sometimes use it to mean taking a discard, and that always confuses me. But I guess that's just me.

Some people use the term "draw" to refer to taking a tile from the wall. That's fine and good, and I can usually figure that out from context. Even though some people might also use the term to refer to a "wall game" (a game that nobody won).

It's not unusual for players of American mah jongg to use this term to refer to the various plays in the Charleston. Some people have referred to the Charleston as simply "passing." I've seen mah jongg software interfaces that used the term to mean "do not call the discard." It's usually easy to figure this one out from context.

I learned Hong Kong mah jongg before I learned American mah jongg. In Hong Kong style, and in some other Asian variants, "pure" usually means a hand comprised of nothing but tiles of a single suit. I've heard it used other ways too. Players of Wright-Patterson mah jongg use it to mean "having the proper number of tiles in the hand." I've also seen it used to mean "without Western indices on the tiles." And I might have heard it used to mean "jokerless" too. So when somebody uses the term "pure" with me, I always have to ask them to define the term for me.

Elaine Sandberg uses this term in her book as an alternative to the term "suitless." It doesn't confuse me, but some confused readers have asked me to explain it. I think "suitless" is a bit more self-explanatory.

This one caught me off guard just this past week. I've often seen the term used to refer to the wind tiles (they're sometimes referred to as wind directions, you see). A reader emailed me about a set's "directions" having possibly not been originally supplied with the set. It took me several minutes to realize he was talking about the instruction manual! Not the wind tiles.

This is part of an occasional series on "Words."

  • Part 1: Column 353
  • Part 2: Column 460
  • Part 3: Column 463
  • Part 4: Column 477
  • Part 5: Column 502

    Click the entries in the header frame, above, to read other columns.

    Question or comment about this column? I often miss something; maybe you'll be the first one to spot it! Please be gentle. Email and the discussion will be posted on the Mah-Jongg Q&A Bulletin Board.

    Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.

    Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book in existence about the American game. 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). Linda Fisher's website is the only website that describes American rules:

    © 2010 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.