What is the 'Official'
Scrabble Word List?

Many of the places you're likely to play Scrabble nowadays will use an 'official' Scrabble word list. However, depending on whether you're playing on Facebook, ISC, or in an official Scrabble tournament, you'll find different terms and acronyms used to describe the available dictionaries.

Since you'll have to agree on which Scrabble words are valid before starting a game, you should familiarize yourself with the official Scrabble word list you're most likely to be offered. Let me explain the most important options you're likely to come across...

CSW
Collins Scrabble Words — The official word list sanctioned by Mattel and WESPA and used in most countries outside of North America. Unlike its North American counterparts, CSW contains all valid Scrabble words from 2 to 15 letters in length. The dictionary containing CSW along with all the definitions is called Collins Official Scrabble Dictionary.

CSW is often described as British, for historical reasons, but should really be thought of as the official International Scrabble Dictionary.

A second edition of CSW has not yet been published, so no version number is needed. A new version of CSW is due out in 2011, but it hasn't yet been christened with an official title.

OSPD
Official Scrabble Players Dictionary — A North American dictionary containing all allowable Scrabble words up to 8 letters long. It also includes longer words if they are inflections of words having 8 letters or fewer. This dictionary is designed for family and school play and so does not contain 'offensive' words (although the 'box rules' do not forbid the use of offensive words).

The latest version of this dictionary is called OSPD4.

SOWPODS
The older, but still well-entrenched, name for the Scrabble word list formed by combining all allowable British and North American Scrabble words. It is formed as a pronounceable anagram of OSW (the old British lexicon) and OSPD. You can think of SOWPODS as a popular, but slightly old-fashioned, name for the more modern CSW.

SOWPODS does not have a version number. People just assume you're talking about the latest version.

TWL
Tournament Word List — A North American lexicon which is basically the unexpurgated version of the OSPD (i.e. it contains all the naughty words!). Actually, TWL also contains all the allowable 9 letter words and their inflections, making it considerably more comprehensive than the OSPD.

TWL is the official word list for Scrabble games played in formally sanctioned North American clubs and tournaments. In fact, you'll occasionally see TWL called OTaCWL, because its full name is actually Official Tournament and Club Word List. Confusingly, the longer name has also been abbreviated to OWL in some places (the popular Scrabble helper Zyzzyva uses this acronym, for example.) Unlike CSW, TWL needs to be supplemented with another official list for adjudicating words of 10-15 letters in length. This additional list is called, naturally enough, the Long Word List (LWL).

The most recent version of TWL is called TWL06 or, equivalently, OWL2.

Unfortunately, Scrabble games made for personal computers, iPhones, and other electronic devices, often don't tell you the dictionary they are using, so it takes a bit of experimentation to work it out. (Worse still, the built-in dictionaries are often riddled with errors!)

To see whether a built-in Scrabble word list is International or North American, I usually just test it with the word ZO (a Tibetan yak), which is not allowed in North America. If the dictionary is North American, you can further distinguish between OSPD and TWL by just entering your favorite offensive word. Let's face it, you were going to do that anyway, right? ;-)






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