Like millions of good Americans, I spent part of the holidays playing a parlor game. It’s meant different things over the centuries, but for the purpose of this post, I’m designating as a “parlor game” that species of organized leisure activities more “creative” and often more interactive than a board game—that have likely shed their cumbersome “board” altogether—but which nonetheless requires rules to be read, and of course hardware to be purchased.

There are many to choose from: the old stand-by, Trivial Pursuit, the “open-minded yuppie” bestseller, Pictionary, the geeky tech-boom darling Cranium, and a host of newer spinoffs. What we played was Taboo. In Taboo, you have a set amount of time (I think two minutes?) to make your teammate guess a word appearing at the top of a card. You are given a list of five or six “taboo” words/phrases you may not use in your attempt. Like all such parlor games, it’s frustrating, slightly annoying, quite fun, and of course most importantly, gives people suffering from minor panic attacks and cabin fever something to do.

But let’s face it. It beats around the bush. So a month or so later, with a clear head, I share with you my idea for a parlor game that cuts through to what parlor games are really all about. The name? Conversation. I haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but here’s roughly how it would be played:

BOULDER, CO-

I’ve studied martial arts most of my life, but I don’t enjoy watching fistfights. Sure, I sometimes watch MMA bouts, mostly as an exercise in making sense of techniques I learned in my Jujutsu days. But I am a salacious voyeur of one class of fights, one that weighs more in murderous intent than in mere blood. When it comes to fights over language, I’m part Don King, part corner, part cut man, part ringside rat, but never referee nor pugilist. This is the first of a few pieces about linguistic rage. First up, the real powder-keg: words of social distinction.