Scrabble Help Glossary

A Slightly Cynical Introduction to Scrabble Babble

This Scrabble Help Glossary is here to remove the blank look on your face when you're told that your first tournament is double-challenge SOWPODS based on aggregates.

When you first start playing Scrabble you'll hear a lot of unfamiliar Scrabble-speak like this. You should be able to interpret most of it using the quick and easy reference list below.

To keep things neat and tidy I've put terms and phrases together first, followed by common acronyms and abbreviations. At the end of the glossary I've included a brief list of symbols you often see in Scrabble dictionaries and word lists.

AGGREGATE

A more impressive term for the total of a player's game scores throughout a tournament. This is often used to separate players who have the same number of wins. Another common decider for such players is their margin.

AIRBALL

A delightfully descriptive term for 'the bingo that disappoints' by scoring close to the minimum possible score (i.e. under 60). This happens because the bingo is made up of 1 point tiles and blanks, misses any significant premium squares, and fails to form any new words (i.e. a throughplay).

The airball is especially frustrating when it has taken four or five moves to mature.

ALPHAGRAM

An alphabetical ordering of a set of tiles which many find helpful in anagramming.

Some words, like BEEFY, are already alphagrams. The fact that there is no word for this property provides an indication of the number of people interested in such things.

ANAGRAM

To rearrange a sequence of letters to form a word or phrase. The true aficionado gets particularly excited by the discovery of anagrams with naughty connotations, such as DORMITORY and DIRTY ROOM.

Despite its innocuous appearance, anagramming is a dangerously addictive pastime and has been responsible for the demise of many otherwise sound relationships. The seriously afflicted can be recognised by their tendency to refer to people only by anagrams of their real names (*Caroline becomes Lonicera, etc.)

ANAHOOK

This one is best explained with an example. Consider the 6-letter stem AEINRT. If the letter 'F' is added to this stem, the letters can be anagrammed to form FAINTER (and the less familiar FENITAR). We then say that 'F' is an anahook of the stem AEINRT. At the time of writing the only letters that aren't anahooks of this stem are 'A','V', and 'Y'. It has been suggested that these letters be called neganahooks. Unsurprisingly, this proposal has gained little support.

ANAMONICS

A word-learning institution invented by masters players to prevent ambitious beginners from advancing too quickly.

This is achieved by convincing the novice to create and memorize hundreds of clever mnemonics like...

RETAIN Aunt Vera's Youth

to remember that the rack R-E-T-A-I-N combines with all letters except for A, V, and Y to form a valid seven letter word.

Meanwhile, the masters player memorizes ten thousand high probability bingos in the same amount of time.

BACK EXTENSION

Much less physically demanding than it sounds, this term refers to a word formed by adding letters to the end of an existing word. Hence FRONTLINE is a front back extension.

BACK HOOK

Another expression for end hook employed to give Scrabble the air of a contact sport.

BENJAMIN

An eight letter word formed by adding three letters to the front of a valid five letter word.

Since *JAMIN is a French word, BENJAMIN does not furnish the English-speaking world with an example of itself. The inappropriateness of this term is tolerated only because nobody actually uses it.

BINGO

A move which uses all seven tiles on a player's rack.

The origin of this term is unknown but it may be an imitation of the excited cry of a disoriented blue hair.

Because such a play is awarded 50 bonus points, it is sometimes more sensibly called a bonus.

BINGO LANE

A row or column in which a bingo play is possible - although such a lane will of course be blocked by the time you get one.

The expression can also be used euphemistically to refer to the passing away of a keen Scrabble player, as in "Grandma lives in Bingo Lane now sweetheart".

BLANK

A tile containing no printed letter. A blank tile is to Scrabble as a Joker is to many card games, because it can be designated any letter its owner chooses.

The novice will often telegraph its presence by turning the blank tile over and over three or four times to ensure there is nothing printed on either side. Aside from the obvious redundancy of the third and subsequent inspections, this behaviour is considered to be strategically unsound.

The blanks are the most sought-after tiles in the game, and hence the source of the Scrabbler's lament.

BLOCK

To play defensively by removing scoring opportunities from an opponent.

Expert players tend to view blocking as extremely amateurish when successfully employed by lower-rated opponents, and highly inspired when employed with equal effect by themselves.

BLUE HAIR

A playful, if slightly derogatory, term for an elderly female opponent. It derives from the inexplicable fact that many elderly women dye their hair blue. It is derogatory because a good player will usually express utter disgust at having been beaten by one.

Much to the displeasure of old people, the term was brought to popular attention by Stefan Fatsis in his best-selling Word Freak.

BRAILLING

The sneaky act of feeling the surface of a tile in order to guess its printed letter before selecting it from the bag. Most serial offenders retired from Scrabble with the introduction of almost perfectly smooth protiles.

BONUS

A more logical term for bingo.

CHALLENGE

To question the validity of a word played by your opponent.

If you are a beginner, don't be intimidated by an expert opponent who greets your challenge with the incredulous "Really? You've never heard of a *ZAIL?", as if you went to a public school or something.

If you are an expert, and a beginner challenges a word you suspect is invalid, try intimidating them with a line like "Really? You've never heard of a *ZAIL?", as if they went to a public school or something.

CHALLENGE SLIP

Although the term conjures up humorous images of a runner executing a corner too swiftly, its real meaning is more mundane. It refers to the piece of paper used during a challenge to record the word being questioned.

CLABBERS

A variant of Scrabble in which a sequence of letters is allowed as long as it anagrams to a valid word. To the casual onlooker, a game of Clabbers looks like it is being played by a pair of lunatics.

If you're not sure why this Scrabble variant is called Clabbers, you probably won't be very good at it.

CLOSED BOARD

A state of play in which very few openings exist.

Naturally enough, players who favour this kind of board are said to be closed minded.

COFFEE-HOUSING

The objectionable practice of making friendly chit-chat with an opponent.

Somewhat paradoxically, the practice of not making friendly chit-chat with an opponent is also considered to be objectionable.

CONSOGRAM

A set of words having the same consonants. Hence RATS, SATIRE, and AEROSAT are all consograms. It is favoured by a small number of experts as a method of grouping bingos for convenient recall.

CRAMBO

An adjective used to describe a list of words sorted alphabetically from the last to first letter of each word, rather than the first to last. This has the effect of grouping words together if they have similar endings. In a crambo list, the words BARK and IRONBARK, for example, would appear close together, whereas they would be separated by many pages in a traditional alphabetically sorted list.

A crambo list makes it easier to locate front extensions, and to memorise groups of words that have the same ending (and therefore often rhyme).

Sensibly, this term was borrowed from the name of an old rhyming game. Less sensibly, the word ultimately derives from the Latin word for cabbage.

DOUBLE CHALLENGE

A rule imposed in some tournaments in which a player who challenges an opponent's word, misses their next turn if the word turns out to be allowed.

Double challenge tournaments are rare nowadays as it is considered to be politically incorrect to discriminate against players with inferior word knowledge.

Fortunately, it is still permitted to discriminate against strategically inferior players.

DOUBLE-CROSS

To place a tile on a premium square in such a way that it scores in both the vertical and horizontal directions. Thus, to double-cross the 'X' on a triple letter square results in a score of at least 48 points.

DOUBLE-DOUBLE

A word which covers two double word squares and therefore scores four times the face value of the word.

DRECK/DRECKY/DRECKISH

The word favored by Scrabble players to describe a terrible rack. Research has shown that the frequency with which a player uses this term is inversely proportional to the player's word knowledge.

ENDGAME

The portion of a game commencing from the instant the bag becomes empty.

The significance of this part of the game is that by tile-tracking, both players can work out precisely what letters remain on their opponent's rack, and therefore enter a strategic zone of perfect-knowledge.

It is also the most popular occasion for players to swear on their mothers' graves that they will tile-track from now on.

FACE VALUE

The face value of a single tile is the numerical value printed on that tile. So a blank tile has a face value of 0, an A tile has a face value of 1, an M tile has a face value of 3, and so on. The face value of a word on a Scrabble board is the total of the face values of the tiles making up the word.

FISH

A picturesque term for the practice of playing off a single tile, hoping to draw favourably to the remaining stem.

The manoeuvre tends to be performed either late in the game as an act of desperation, or early in the game as an act of stupidity. In either case the novice will generally confirm his status by crossing his fingers.

One of the more satisfying moments in a game of Scrabble occurs when an arrogant opponent fishes off a tile in the dying seconds of a game, and reaches into the bag only to discover it is empty.

FLASH-DRAWING

An unethical practice whereby a player who has just made a move, plunges their hand into the tile bag at lightning speed in order to prevent their opponent from challenging the word they just played. The logic is that in many tournaments there is a rule that a challenger loses their right to challenge a play once their opponent has drawn tiles to replenish their rack.

Fortunately, this controversial practice doesn't happen very often because nobody reads the tournament rules anyway.

FRONT EXTENSION

Much less provocative than it sounds, this term refers to a word formed by appending letters to the front of an existing word. Hence SETBACK is a back front extension.

HOOK

A letter that can be added to either the beginning of a word (called a front hook) or the end of a word (called an end hook or a back hook).

LEAVE

A common abbreviated form of rack leave.

MARGIN

The total of the differences between your scores and your opponents' scores throughout a tournment. The margin is a popular way to separate players who have the same number of wins. Tournaments that are not based on margin are usually based on aggregate.

Margin is also somewhat provocatively referred to as a player's spread.

NINE-TIMER

See TRIPLE-TRIPLE

OFFICIAL SCRABBLE PLAYERS DICTIONARY

One of a seemingly endless string of 'official' Scrabble dictionaries, none of which ever seems to be quite official. This one is used to adjudicate games in North America, and is usually referred to by its acronym, OSPD.

OPEN BOARD

A state of play in which there are lots of openings for bingos, and other juicy scoring opportunities.

PARALLEL PLAY

A word played partially alongside another word forming one or more two letter words in the process.

The most impressive kind of parallel play is one in which four or more letters overlap. Very occasionally, a seven letter word is played entirely parallel to an existing seven letter word forming seven two letter words in the process. This is very rare, but below is an example of one which was actually played at an Australian Scrabble tournament. Just click the image to read the full story...

Scrabble Help - Parallel Play

PHONEY

A non-valid word either played, or considering being played, in a Scrabble game.

PRE-ENDGAME

This term doesn't have a precise definition, but it refers to the few moves preceding the endgame (which does have a precise definition). During the pre-endgame a player can often use the results of their tile-tracking to make accurate estimates of probabilities associated with their candidate plays.

PREMIUM SQUARE

Any square on a Scrabble board that offers extra points beyond the face value of a tile or word played over that square. The premium squares can be identified immediately by their colours. A Double Letter Square is Light Blue, a Triple Letter Square is Dark Blue, and so on.

A seasoned Scrabble player is more likely to paint their house dark blue than light blue, because it feels like the house will be worth more.

Q-STICK

A harrowing predicament in which you find yourself stuck with an unplayable Q at the end of the game (or else the dastardly act of inflicting this on your opponent). The torture of the Q-stick lies in the fact that the ensuing penalty amounts to 20 points — sufficient to turn around many a close game — and is compounded by the less tangible effect of having greatly reduced flexibility.

Legend has it that the Q-stick is behind the farcical inclusion of a large number of U-less Q words in the Scrabble dictionary. When pressed for the etymology of such words, lexicographers are unable to provide much evidence beyond the frequent email requests they receive from the Scrabble-playing community.

RACK

Strictly speaking, the plastic or wooden device used to support a player's tiles, however it is used more often to refer to a player's tiles themselves.

The male novice who believes he will be the first wit to compliment an attractive female opponent on her nice rack should think again.

RACK LEAVE

The tiles remaining on your rack after you play a word.

If your opening rack is GWRTYAD, for example, here are the leaves you would have for three particular plays you might consider...

Play + Leave

WARTY + GD
TAWDRY + G
WRY + ADGT

The rack leave is critical in Scrabble because a good leave will help you score well on the next move. This means it is often worth sacrificing points on any given play, in order to keep up the scoring momentum on subsequent moves.

Some expert players memorize hundreds of computer-generated rack leave statistics, enabling them to make insanely accurate score-sacrifices.
Such players are invariably single.

Often abbreviated leave.

RECOUNT

An annoying right, invariably invoked by the loser of a close game, to rescore every single frigging move of the game as if the outcome of a presidential election were at stake.

The practice, which is outlawed by level-headed tournament directors, is founded on the misguided belief that errors of arithmetic only occur during close games.

Needless to say, considerable satisfaction ensues when the recount results in the desperate party losing by an even greater margin. Moreso if they just miss out on prize money as a result.

RUNNER

A typically diminutive creature employed at well below minimum wage to administer challenges during a Scrabble tournament. Although faster and more agile than their blue-haired ancestors, a perpetual air of disinterest and confusion tends to mask these perceived advantages.

SCORE SHEET

Are you serious?

SCRABBLE DICTIONARY

A brilliant marketing ploy enabling the otherwise unsellable Scrabble Word List to be placed on the same shelf as the OED.

SCRABBLER'S LAMENT

The common complaint heard during tournaments that 'my opponent got both the blanks'. It is rarely uttered by more enlightened players who realise they themselves got both blanks in the previous game.

SCRABBLER'S PARADOX

A mathematical anomally observed at the conclusion of Scrabble tournaments whereby the proportion of players who claim to have drawn worse tiles than their opponents is consistently greater than one half.

SOWPODS

A popular name for an international word list formed by combining the British and American lexicons. In true Scrabbling style, the name was invented by anagramming the combined letters of OSW (Britain's old Official Scrabble Words) and OSPD (North America's Official Scrabble Players Dictionary).

Personally I would have opted for the acronymically superior Global Official Dictionary.

SPREAD

A commoner's term for margin.

STICKY S

A final S that looks like an optional pluralization, but which is actually an essential part of the word, e.g. AUROCHS (an extinct wild ox - plural AUROCHSES).

TILES

The little square thingies with the letters printed on them.

TILE-TRACKING

The practice of recording the tiles played during a game.

Expert players use this information to inform their decisions as the remaining tile distribution becomes smaller. Non-expert players do this because they always have.

TRACKING

A common shortened form of tile-tracking

TRIPLE-TRIPLE

A play that spans two triple word squares and scores nine times (that's right, not six times) the face value of the word (in addition to the usual 50 bonus points if all seven tiles are used up in the process).

Because there are eight squares from one triple word square to another, at least one tile must already be on the board between two triple word squares to make such a play possible.

Triple-triples are virtually always responsible for the crazy record scores you hear about in Scrabble from time to time, with scores of over 200 points for a single play being quite possible.

A triple-triple is sometimes referred to as a nine-timer.

UNRECOUNTABLE

Used to describe a game in which both players' scoresheets are completely illegible making a game-reconstruction impossible. Attempts by such players to execute a recount are generally humorous.

Acronyms

COSDCollins Official Scrabble Dictionary
CSWCollins Scrabble Words
DLS — Double Letter Square
DWS — Double Word Square
LWLLong Word List
OSPDOfficial Scrabble Players Dictionary
OSW — Official Scrabble Words
OTaCWLOfficial Tournament and Club Word List
OWLOfficial Word List
SIM — SIMulation
SOWPODS — Anagram of OSPD + OSW
TLS — Triple Letter Square
TWLTournament Word List
TWS — Triple Word Square
WESPAWorld English Scrabble Players Association
WSC — World Scrabble Championship

Symbols

# ... Indicates that a word is only allowed in British Scrabble
$ ... Indicates that a word is only allowed in North American Scrabble
* ... Indicates that a word is not valid
? ... Denotes a blank tile



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