When is a word a word?

by Peter Herring
(Tettnang, Germany)

Hi Darryl!

I live in Germany and recently purchased a Scrabble game, mixing two sets of tiles so that my wife and I can play using both German and English words. I also purchased the Collins Ultimate Scrabble Word List (edition 2009) and German "Duden Scrabble Woerterbuch".

We were quite amazed to find there are thousands more valid words in the English dictionary compared to the German. The reason seems clear - namely, the English collection (around 260,000 words) contains a huge number of "foreign" words.

I can appreciate, thanks to the expansion of the British Empire, that the English vocabulary has been extended with words like bungalow, khaki, boomerang, kosher, fjord etc. which are in (relatively) common use, but surely "kharif" - a Pakistani crop, "aglu" - a breathing hole in the ice made by a seal, are words principally used by ethic people. (These may be poor examples, but I think you know what I mean).

In addition, there are British dialect words like "Faa" (Scottish for "fall") - but NOT "hacky" (a common word in my hometown, Sunderland, meaning "dirty"). My wife also complains that many German/Austrian dialect words are missing.

I always thought abbreviations were are not allowed - but we find both "ab" and "abs" (abdominal muscles) are valid!

We still enjoy the game, but would never consider entering any competitions which are no more than tests in memorising lists of "official" words.

Best Regards,
Peter Herring

Comments for When is a word a word?

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Apr 21, 2011
Continuing Scrabbling!
by: Anonymous

Hi Darryl,
thanks for the explanation. I appreciate it's a mammoth task to compile such official word lists and you have to specify some rules somehow.
As far as we're (my wife and I) concerned, we'll continue to enjoy the game, allowing only those words in the two dictionaries we've purchased (German and English). We don't intend purchasing alternative/up to date versions, though perhaps we might try the Internet versions, for convenience.

Best Regards,


Apr 09, 2011
When is a word a word? (Response)
by: Darryl Francis

Thanks for the feedback. If I can expound a bit ....

For the Collins Scrabble Word List, we only use words from a variety of sources: Collins English Dictionary, The Chambers Dictionary, and the (North American) Tournament and Club Word List. The last of these itself uses words from various dictionaries - predominantly, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.

If a word is in one of those sources, and doesn't contravene the rules of Scrabble (ie doesn't have a hyphen or apostrophe, or isn't capitalised, or isn't an abbreviation), then we'll include it in the Collins Scrabble Word List. We'll also include appropriate plurals, verb formations (ending in -s, -ed, and -ing), and comparative and superlative forms of some adjectives.

If the dictionary sources choose to list some regional and dialect words, but not others, that's just tough - we'll include those listed in the dictionary. We don't want to go outside these dictionaries and start cherrypicking words from the whole English language.

As for abbreviations .... the dictionaries treat items such as TV, MPH & WPM as abbreviations; items such as AB, LOX & POM as shortened forms; and items such as SCUBA, FIFO & RADAR as acronyms. And it's only the abbreviations that we won't admit for Scrabble.

With the advent of the new Collins Scrabble Word List in May 2011, and accepted use in WESPA Scrabble games from January 2012, there will be even more shortened forms, acronyms, and regional and dialect words allowed in Scrabble.

Happy Scrabbling!

Darryl Francis

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to DarrylFrancis.