from AA to ZZZ
Do you scour the dictionary for cool words?
Well, I think you'll like it here!
Why? Because this page is just one giant cool words list dedicated to lovers of word games and puzzles.
For the keen Scrabblers, I've pinched quite a few unusual words from The Official Scrabble Dictionary, which is the 'secret' adjudicator used in many online and electronic word games.
If you're a cruciverbalist (a crossword lover, that is), you'll find plenty of tasty crosswordese here too!
If spelling and vocabulary are more your thing, some of the coolest words here come from word lists I've taken from all the major vocabulary exams and spelling bees.
But enough chatter. Let's get to why you popped by. Here is Word Buff's favorite list of cool words from AA to ZZZ...
- n. A type of volcanic rock having a rough and jagged surface. The name is Hawaiian in origin and pronounced ah-ah.
AA is one of three types of solidified flow lava, a fact which I mention only as an excuse to throw in my favorite type, which is called PAHOEHOE. The third type has the rather mundane name of PILLOW LAVA, which I include here only for completeness.
Of course, the serious Scrabbler will be more likely to recognize AA as an indispensable vowel-dump, and the very first word in the
Official Scrabble Dictionary.
It is also the least interesting palindrome I know.
- npl. A formal proclamation announcing intent to marry.
This word jumped out at me when I was watching the very word-buff-esque documentary Spellbound. While participants in the final rounds are usually challenged with much longer words, this harmless looking five-letter critter knocked out a favorite (indeed MY favorite!) contender for the prize.
Despite being such a short word, it is very difficult to guess its spelling from its pronunciation (it is pronounced banz), since there is no vocal indication of the second N.
This word has also been known to trip up the odd Scrabbler. For an entirely different reason though. When a Scrabble player learns a word like BANNS, it is easy to assume it to be the plural of the non-existent BANN*. Uh oh! There's an asterisk!
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- n. A hot-tempered person. Also spelled CACAFUEGO.
Today's word began its life as CAGAFUEGO*, which was a nickname used by 16th century sailors for their Spanish ship Nuestra Señora de la Concepción. The choice of name came from a combination of the Spanish words Cagare, meaning to excrete, and Fuego, meaning fire. Hence Cagafuego, if taken literally, meant excrete fire, which I assume means that the ship went really fast.
However, the G was eventually corrupted to a C, resulting in the word CACAFUEGO (no asterisk!). And from there a further corruption resulted in today's word.
Interestingly, Collins gives the definition of CACAFOGO as spitfire, which Chambers in turn defines as a 'hot-tempered person'. So, did the term spitfire arise as a euphemism for shitfire which would be the literal translation of today's word? This worse-than-amateur lexicographer doesn't know the answer right now, but I'll certainly let you know if I find out.
And for Scrabble-buffs... This word came up during my interview with Andrew Fisher, a champion Scrabble player, as his answer to the question 'What is the most unlikely word you've ever played?'.
Well, I checked it out, and it certainly would be hard to beat. There are 40,161 eight-letter words allowed in Scrabble. If you were to list all these words from highest probability to lowest, Andrew's play of CACAFOGO would come in at position 37,934!
And if that isn't unlikely enough for you, the probability of this word appearing in a New York Times crossword puzzle, if the last few decades are anything to go by, is precisely zero.
- n. A wooden, spinning top used in a gambling game, usually played by children during an eight-day Jewish festival called Hanukkah (or Festival of Lights).
Pronounced dray'dl, this word is bound to eliminate a few spellers from the stage.
I stumbled across this word while I was researching a page on
The Hebrew Alphabet.
The reason this word turned up during that research is that each of the four faces of a DREIDEL displays a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The four letters traditionally used are NUN, GIMEL, HEH, and SIN, although in Israel SIN is usually replaced by PEH. In the image above, the front-facing green letter is GIMEL, and the partly visible red letter is HEH.
This research helped explain a delightful clue I encountered for this word in a New York Times crossword puzzle. Namely...
Place to see a nun
For the Scrabble player, who is also allowed to use the alternative spelling of DREIDL, today's word generates three possible bonus plays: DREIDEL, DREIDELS, and DREIDLS. Of these, only DREIDLS has any anagrams (namely, RIDDLES and SLIDDER).
And speaking of Scrabble, you'll find loads more crazy words like the ones on this page in my free mini-Scrabble dictionary. Nearly 40 pages worth to be precise!
Just click the image below to download it right now...
- n. A demarcated area within which Jewish religious restrictions are relaxed. The plural is variously written as ERUVIM, ERUVIN, or the more clunky and chauvinistic ERUVS.
I came across this word in From Square One, a charming story about crosswords by Dean Olsher...
Some Orthodox Jews extend the idea of the house-hold by stretching a string, called an eruv, around their neighborhood, so that any activity allowed only in the home on the Sabbath is therefore extended to the space defined by the eruv. I think of the crossword as a mental eruv.
- n. A bird of the ibis family, found in large numbers throughout South Africa.
The technical name is actually Bostrychia hagedash, but the logophile will much prefer the palindrome.
It is a large, heavy-set, dull-coloured bird, which gets its common name from the raucous call it makes when flying... 'haa-haa-haa-hadedah'.
In fact, quite a few birds have common names that are imitations of their calls. Other onomatopoeic birds I've stumbled across include...
MOPOKE or MOREPORK
- n. A very poisonous spider found in New Zealand.
Many people who first play to the International Scrabble Dictionary are understandably skeptical of the crazy words they see sprinkled across the Scrabble board. When playing such people, it's important to have some convincing evidence at hand...
A Canadian tourist in New Zealand has suffered heart inflammation after apparently being bitten on the penis by a spider. The tourist fell asleep naked on a beach in Northland, on the far tip of the north island, after going skinny dipping, the NZ Herald reported.
After the bite from the highly poisonous katipo spider, the 22-year-old began to suffer high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and a severely swollen penis.
— ninemsn.com.au, 14 March, 2010
- adj. Indifferent to religious or, sometimes, political matters.
Aside from being a rather handy word to describe myself, this word caught my eye as another handy spelling bee torpedo. In particular, it was the last correctly spelled word in the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee, leaving 13 year old Kavya Shivashankar as the new champion. (In the previous year, Kavya was eliminated in Round 11 after incorrectly spelling ECRASE.)
This word derives from the name of an ancient biblical city called Laodicea. In the Book of Revelations, the inhabitants of this city are ridiculed for being 'neither hot nor cold' in their faith.
Unfortunately for North American Scrabble players, Laodicean is deemed by Webster's to be capitalized, so you can't play it in Scrabble. For those playing to the International Scrabble Dictionary, the story is different, since Chambers appends the Scrabbler's much-loved clause 'also without cap'.
As I've said before, Chambers is my friend ;-)
- n. The padding placed between a saddle and a horse to reduce rubbing.
Here's a short video to show you how it became one of my cool words...
- n. A type of seal, including fur seals and sea lions, with well-developed external ears.
Now seals are all very interesting, but...
the Scrabble player is more likely to get excited by the following very cool properties of this word...
Firstly, it has three handy front hooks: NOTARY, ROTARY, and VOTARY.
Secondly, its plural is the high-probability bingo OTARIES, which also takes these front hooks, and has the equally useful anagram OARIEST.
Thirdly, consider this question...
If I draw seven tiles from a full tile bag, what is the most likely bingo to be drawn?
Now, since we know the exact distribution of the tiles in a standard Scrabble set, we can work out, for each valid seven-letter word, how many combinations of tiles allow that word to be formed. The winner is the word that can be formed from the largest number of combinations. Although the blanks spice things up a bit, this is a trivial problem by a mathematician's standards.
And the answer? Well, it turns out to be OTARINE, the adjectival form of OTARY!
If you take the time to learn this word, and you practice recognising it from a scrambled rack, you will almost certainly get to play it. If not, you will at least get to witness it being played by somebody else.
And that's why Scrabble players are so strangely familiar with the taxonomy of seals.
- n. Pronounced chee, and more commonly spelt CHI, a term used in Chinese medicine to describe the life-force supposed to flow through a body. Bad health is often attributed to an obstruction to a person's qi.
No single word has had a greater impact on Scrabble than this simple two-letter word. When it was first introduced into the Scrabbler's lexicon in the 1990s, Q-stick endgames virtually became a thing of the past. In almost all games now, a player can unload the Q onto a floating I, if they don't have one themself, to avoid the dreaded 20 point endgame catastrophe.
To show how important this single word is amongst a fellowship of nearly one quarter of a million Scrabble words, a computer simulation of one million games, performed some years ago, confirmed that QI was played in more games than any other word.
It seems that QI is to Scrabble as ERA is to crosswords.
- n. Used in a derogatory way to describe a dramatization that is contrived and unconvincing (as in 'so much Sardoodledom').
Don't believe me? Ask this kid...
- n. A dark crystalline powder yielding a violet dyestuff (hence its other name, Phenylene Violet) used in microscopy as a stainer. Also spelled THIONIN.
The combining form THIO-, meaning sulphur, usually signifies a chemical compound which has been formed by replacing certain oxygen atoms by sulphur atoms. The long list of Scrabbly chemicals produced in this way includes: THIOFURAN, THIOL, THIONATE, THIONYL, THIOPHEN (also, THIOPHENE), THIOTEPA, and the frequently spotted five-vowel-eight THIOUREA.
The reason I singled out THIONINE from this impressive list comes from yet another delicious Scrabble anecdote from the delightful book Word Freak, by Stefan Fatsis...
In a 1999 World Scrabble Championship match between two of the world's best players, Nigel Richards and Adam Logan, an early play of THIONINE was extended first to ETHIONINE, and then again later in the game to the ten-letter gem METHIONINE!
Remarkably, both players knew this grand hooking sequence - the kind of once-in-a-lifetime play that Scrabble players live for.
- n. A temporary scientific name assigned to the chemical element with atomic number 111 until the existence of this element has been formally ratified.
Want to know more about this one? Here is
an article I wrote about Unununium
one day at work when I was really bored. You'll find lots of other cool words in this article too!
- n. A type of broth based on fish or chicken, with vegetables, cooked in a thick stock.
This word would make perfect grist for the Balderdash mill. After all, surely it will be easy to convince your opponents that waterzooi are 'small, hirsute, water-borne creatures'.
Be that as it may, this is not the reason for including this one on my list of cool words...
In 1995, Jim Geary, a professional Poker player cum Scrabble expert, reported on a brilliant endgame. In the dying moments of the game Geary was 90 points behind and held the rack B-E-E-I-O-R-W. He played off the letters B-E calculating a 1/68 chance of replacing these letters with A-T. It worked, allowing him to play ... you guessed it ...
- n. A type of weevil often referred to as a snouted beetle.
Famous among word play enthusiasts for being the last word in the English dictionary, it is sometimes even used to mean the last word on a subject.
I like the following clue provided in the New York Times crossword of Saturday, December 11, 1999...
Insect that's the last word in the Scrabble Players Dictionary
Here's an example sentence...
Despite popular belief, ZYZZYVA is not, in fact, the ZYZZYVA of Scrabble.
And speaking of Scrabble, if you're wondering about the lower case zz in the title, you probably don't play it enough.
P.S. ZYZZYVA is also the name of a
very cool Scrabble Helper.
Well, that's about it from me for now, but there's no reason the fun should stop there...
- n. An informal term for sleep.
But if you think at last you have found the ZYZZYVA of Scrabble... well... not quite. The plural is good too!
Aside from being the most frequently appearing word in mosquito spelling bees, ZZZ is one of only two words allowed in Scrabble containing a sequence of three repeated letters. The other is BRRR, an expression usually accompanied by a shiver. If you're a canine, you might write a grumpy letter of complaint to the Scrabble authorities, signing off with a sarcastic GRRR*.
Can't Get Enough?
I've put together a free tutorial for people who really want to step their vocabulary up a notch or two. I've designed it for people who want more than just a few cool words, but want to become legends at Scrabble, crosswords, and other word games...
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