Our Reading Lives

What Wordle Has Taught Us About The Power Of Moderation

When Wordle started to get some traction at the beginning of the year, and the colourful rectangles began to pop up on our social media timelines – most of the time without any sort of explanation – someone tweeted that Wordle is the sourdough starter of Omicron.

It is a funny thing to know how senseless this sentence would have been just a few months ago, and how this shared pandemic experience has allowed us to easily decipher the message and laugh at the truth of it. 

I admit that at first I was reticent about Wordle.

I too saw the colourful rectangles on twitter, but those tweets lacked information about the game, and while I was curious, I wasn’t curious enough to google what they meant or what Wordle was. At some point, I even senselessly vouched that I would not find yet another online distraction to keep me on my phone for hours, and I took pride in not knowing, in not being part of the crowd.

It was only when the game arrived at my Instagam timeline that I eventually bit the bullet because, while I for some reason didn’t want to be part of the crowd, I also didn’t want to be the only one left out.

I guess I felt at first a bit daunted; it is a word game, and I love word games, but the last thing I needed at the time was yet another thing to fail at, and make me feel silly or less clever than most. If I didn’t partake in the game, I couldn’t lose it, right? But I finally caved in and decided the perks must be higher than the losses, if everyone was doing it.

Wordle was designed by Josh Wardle – whose last name was seriously begging to be made into some kind of word pun – with the intention of merely creating a gift to his wife, a game for both of them to play during the pandemic.

After months playing, as they started sharing the game with family and friends and saw the excitement around the game grow, Wardle decided to release it to the public in October 2021. In January 2022, over 300,000 people were playing the game. In February 2022, that number had risen to over 2 million.

Wordle isn’t, however, a completely new concept. When, after finally giving Wordle a try and loving it, I tried to explain the game to my boyfriend, he promptly said “So, it works like Lingo?” I had no idea what Lingo was or that it existed, so I went looking for answers.

Lingo is originally an American game show, which aired for one season in 1987. In 2002, a reboot of the show was made for Game Show Network, which ended after six seasons, in 2007.

In February of this year, news came out that a new revival of the show is to be broadcast by CBS later in 2022, with RuPaul as the host.

Although there is some variation to the game when played on TV – after all, it takes more than a simple word game to call in viewers – the main part of the game shares the same concept with Wordle, and it is believed that this new adaptation of Lingo has been prompted by Wordle’s sudden popularity.

CNBC even ran an article on the similarities of Wordle and Lingo, and how that might bring copyright troubles (no worries, according to the article, the chance of any copyright claim happening is pretty much nonexistent).

One of the things that surprised me about Wordle was the one-word-a-day rule. As I said above, I do not need another distraction keeping me on my phone, so finding out Wordle is a one-time-a-day thing was really the frosting on the top of the cake. I was sold.

I found that the game was easy, but not overly simplified, and I managed to complete it usually in about 10 or 15 minutes. It also became a great thing to share with friends and strangers online, showcasing and comparing results, sharing our paths to figuring out the word, or how and why we failed to complete it.

Wordle has actually fueled great conversations on the personal ways of approaching the game: starting with the same word everyday, or using a different word each time? Which tricks do we use, and how do we work around the possibilities we come across?

My partner and I have a daily challenge on the game, which we have adapted to our needs as we continued to play it.

We started by simply sharing via message the same letterless rectangles everyone was sharing online, to compare results. It eventually became a challenge of who, between us both, had “won” that day. Each morning was a blank slate, no points accumulated or taking notes of who had the best winning streak. We then shared which words we had chosen, our thought process, and how we had gotten to the right guess (or had failed to get it).

After realising that whoever shared the results last would get stuck trying not to get a lower performance, we decided we would only let each other know we had done the Wordle of the day, without talking about our personal result. Those final results were to be disclosed only after both of us had completed the game.

This resulted in a more enjoyable experience, which remained first and foremost a personal challenge, rather than an immediate comparison of results. This subtle change has allowed us to avoid becoming obsessed with the other’s strike, sometimes stumped with the fact that the other person “has gotten it in four tries, so I gotta figure it out in four or fewer,” since, without knowing the other’s result, we will just strive to do our own personal best.

It’s been working great for us, and it’s been a lot of fun, especially because we both do the English and the Dutch one, so sometimes even when one of us performs better in the English, very often we manage to draw when comparing both results. So far it has been pretty balanced, and it is a great addition to our daily routines.

Of course, in the first week trying Wordle, I became a bit obsessed with it. The game was so uncomplicated, so much fun, and it was a shared experience of joy in times where so much around me was pretty unsure.

I found out Worlde was available for other languages as well, so I tested myself in the languages I knew a bit: Portuguese (my native), Spanish (very similar to Portuguese), Italian (which I have studied for two years), German (learned in high school), and French – which I don’t speak, but has Latin roots and a lot of words similar to Portuguese. 

Strangely enough, I got several of these, and I played the Wordle for all these languages for a couple of days. I went as far as getting the Italian word right on the first try the very first time I played it (to be fair, the word of the day was amore – in my opinion one of the best words to start with – so I was lucky. But damn, it felt like the biggest win of my last decade).

image of screenshot with a daily wordle result saying I guessed this Italian 5-letter word in 1/6 try

Eventually, when playing so many languages became overwhelming (especially since I haven’t mastered all of those languages), I halfheartedly complained it was such a shame we could play only one English word a day, so a friend sent me a link to a website with an infinite amount of plays. I dove into it head first and eager. And that’s when I learned everything about the power of moderation. 

In the end, I think this is what has been the biggest appeal of Wordle. How would the world react to being shown tens of Wordle results online a day? To play them? The novelty would have passed in an instant, and people would be done with it quickly. Some would be making 20 Wordles a day, while others would be making one, the words would not be the same for everyone, and there would be a connection lost there. The connection is simple: there is one word a day that is the same for everyone, and some days you’ll do great, and some day you won’t. And that’s okay. 

I think this lesson is a great example for the book community, too. How many of us have gotten overwhelmed by the choice, by all the books coming out we want to read and are just out of our grasp because there isn’t enough time – there is never enough time.

How many of us have felt the need to take a step back in the face of too much choice, too much reading, too many books, to figure out exactly why we read, why we enjoy books, and how we want to consume them? I know several people who have experienced this. I am one of them.

Going back to the original Wordle has allowed me to continue with the game daily, to do it with my morning tea and then be done with it, to go on to do other things, glad I had that experience and I have 24 hours to enjoy my result. Looking forward to figure out the next word tomorrow, and after tomorrow, and the day after that. 

Right now I’m a stickler for two Wordles: English and Dutch. They’re two languages me and my partner understand, so we can share this with each other without having to devote three hours to the game each day.

It’s joyful, because it is not in excess. It is just in the right amount. Moderate.

The New York Times

A few weeks ago news came out that Wordle had been bought for a whooping seven figure amount by the NYT.

The NYT news site – which has other game words, like Spelling Bee – has taken over Wordle, with talk of keeping the game as is: no notifications, no paywalls, no advertisement. 

Although this is true for now, there are no promises it will continue to be so forever, and it can’t really be said that there was no change to the game once it was put under the guise of the NYT.

On the very first day of the switch, if memory serves me well (and if it doesn’t and it wasn’t in the very first day, it was certainly during the first week), I immediately found the word to be a bit different from the usual Wordle choices: “cynic.” “Caulk” and “swill” followed suit.

Of course, many point out that these are not extremely difficult or unknown words, and they may be right, but a good chunk of people playing the game complained that the words became less accessible. And I agree. I can’t exactly pinpoint why some words have thrown me off (I had no idea what “swill” meant, but I knew “caulk”), but the use of double letters and less commonly used words switched the game a little.

Maybe this is a good thing; maybe it means we get to switch it off sometime, go back and forth between more obvious and more obscure words. In the end, we can only hope the balance is there, because let’s face it: the true appeal of a game like Wordle isn’t to just be challenging and difficult. It is to give the majority of us a feeling we can still win at something, especially at times when so little is under our control.

Wordle is the sourdough starter of Omicron, but you don’t need to know much about baking, or remember to feed it to keep it alive. With Wordle, you just need an interest in words, a little luck, and the knowledge that you can share all your wins and amazing results, or your losses and frustrations. And there will be people in their own corner of the world doing the same: looking at a colourful rectangle on their phone, sipping their coffee, and taking that short moment to appreciate the joy of the game. One word a day.


Did you know Book Riot has created their own line of Wordle-inspired merch? Grab it while you can! And yes, you are allowed to buy more than one item a day.

If you’d like to read further about Wordle, especially if you are new to the game, here is a post for you.