Word Buff Stuff!

FREE Word Games eZine


The Word Buff Stuff! eZine is an occasional newsletter I send out to members when I've come across something I'm pretty sure you'll find useful, fun, or interesting. Usually I'll include a cool word that's crossed my path of late, and a longish article about a more serious word games topic. Here's a previous issue to show you what I mean...

Issue #4

Welcome to the 4th issue of Word Buff Stuff!, an eZine providing word gamers and logophiles with a regular injection of puzzles, tips, and chit-chat from the world of words and word games.

Cool Word Watch


Photo courtesy of Utkupascha

A recent article in TheSun.co.uk gave me a good chuckle...

The story involved Jack Sedgewick, a great grandfather and keen word buff, who got a nasty surprise when he sought the assistance of Yahoo to solve a crossword puzzle clue that had stumped him.

The answer to the clue, as you've probably guessed from the title, turned out to be ONAGER. And, yes, that's a picture of the Equus hemionus onager just above. The regular crossword solver might recognize this creature as a bit of routine crosswordese, while the Scrabble aficionado might recognize it as the handy anagram of ORANGE.

But what was the nasty surprise?

Well, the exact clue for this word was [Wild Asian ass]. When Jack typed that clue into the search engine he got bombarded with porn sites with titles like: Wildest Asian Ass Ever!

Word Buff's Corner

What is the 'Official' Scrabble Dictionary?

It's often the first question people ask me when they find out I'm seriously into Scrabble. Unfortunately, this simple question does not have a simple answer...

The main reason for this is that Scrabble has two owners, each with its own area of jurisdiction, and hence its own rules, budgets, agendas, and yes, dictionaries.

NOTE — Some of the official Scrabble references are not 'dictionaries', strictly speaking. Rather they are lists of valid words without definitions. Let's not split hairs here. Sometimes I'll say 'dictionary', sometimes 'word reference', sometimes 'lexicon', and so on.

Specifically, Scrabble is owned by Hasbro in North America, and by Mattel throughout the rest of the world. To further complicate things, Hasbro distinguishes 'Family and School' Scrabble from 'Tournament and Club' Scrabble - I'm going to ignore this last distinction by just focusing on the official 'tournament scene', since that's the main scope of this website.

NOTE — Well, ok, I won't ignore it. I'll tuck it away in this note instead. The official North American Scrabble dictionary for school/leisure/family play is the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (4th Ed.). Why a separate dictionary for this audience? Basically, they've removed all the naughty words.

Actually, rather than refer to Mattel and Hasbro, it is more convenient to refer to the organizations charged with overseeing an 'Official' Scrabble dictionary on their behalves. These organizations are the Word English Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) and the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA), respectively.

To keep this article brief, I'm going to omit all the history (which is surprisingly interesting and controversial for such an innocuous topic!) and just summarize what you need to know in order to choose the right word reference for your next game of Scrabble.

Another thing I'm going to do to keep this article brief, is to stop explaining how I'm going to keep this article brief.

World English Scrabble Players Association (WESPA)

WESPA appoints the dictionary publisher Collins to work with Scrabble players to publish an official Scrabble word reference usually referred to as Collins Scrabble Words (CSW). The intention is for this list to provide an official 'World English' Scrabble dictionary, being valid for all Scrabble tournaments played in the English language. They've made a lot of progress, but the big stumbling block is that NASPA doesn't want it.

NOTE — Scrabble players await the next (second) edition of CSW with bated breath. You see, the production of the first edition was generally considered to be an embarrassment to lexicography. This was most unfortunate, as it has further contributed to NASPA's reluctance to adopt WESPA's Scrabble dictionary as its own word reference. I understand that the second edition is being prepared with greater care than the first, which many would say shouldn't be too difficult.

Players often refer generically to the official 'World English' Scrabble dictionary as SOWPODS, regardless of the particular publisher or edition. This unusual name comes from an anagram of the acronyms of its original component dictionaries, being OSW (used in Great Britain) and OSPD (used in North America). But let's not get distracted with that right now...

The long and short of it is, when somebody asks you to play to SOWPODS, they want to use the official 'World English' Scrabble dictionary, which currently happens to be CSW.

North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA)

The official word reference for Scrabble games endorsed by NASPA is called the Official Tournament and Club Word List (OTCWL). Just to confuse things, a curious human affinity for TLAs has resulted in this acronym being further abbreviated - sometimes to OWL, and other times to TWL. So please memorize the following equation...


Unlike CSW, which is too young to have a pedigree, OTCWL exists in two editions. The one you need to worry about is the second edition, which is the latest version. Unfortunately, you will not only see different acronyms for this word list, but you will sometimes see the version represented by the publication year instead of the edition number. Thus, TWL2 refers to the same list as TWL06, since the second edition of this list was published in 2006. Similary, you'll often see this list referred to as OWL2.

A further unfortunance (please cite 'Word Buff Stuff #4' if you use this word in future) is that OTCWL, unlike CSW, does not contain all possible words up to fifteen letters long (that's the number of letters spanning a traditional Scrabble board). It contains, roughly, all valid words of nine letters or less, as well as their inflections. To cater for Nigel Richards, there is another official tome called the Long Words List, denoted LL by some, and LWL by others.

If you've ever used the Scrabble helper Zyzzyva, you may have noticed that one of the lexicons it offers you is 'OWL2 + LWL'. You can now see that this lexicon entails every single word currently allowed in North American Scrabble tournaments.

NOTE — It seems odd to me that the NSA, NASPA's predecessor, didn't formalize the collective lexicon 'OWL2 + LWL', but I understand that their dictionary committee is looking into that at the moment. I guess it must involve more than just making up a name.

Will It Ever Get Simple?

Probably not.

In 2009, NASPA joined WESPA. This led many, myself included, to anticipate a final union of official Scrabble dictionaries, thereby enabling me to remove the scare quotes from the name 'World English' Scrabble dictionary. Alas, it was not to be. You see, when a Scrabble organization joins WESPA, they are not obliged to accept WESPA's preferred Scrabble dictionary. They are merely expressing support for the existence of an organized world Scrabble scene, and in particular for events like the World Scrabble Championship.

Hence the following statement appears on NASPA's official website...

"NASPA has no plans, right now or in the foreseeable future, to adopt Collins." — NASPA, October 8, 2009

Notice that their adoption plans do not exclude SOWPODS as such, but rather Collins, although it's fair to say that I could be being a bit cynical there...

NOTE — Although NASPA joining WESPA while playing to a non-WESPA dictionary is a tad inconsistent, the situation is at least symmetrical. You see, NASPA actually sanctions some tournaments played to WESPA's dictionary.

But let's end with something non-confusing. Namely, the 'World English' Scrabble dictionary (aka CSW) subsumes the North American dictionary lexically, just as the 'World' subsumes 'North America' geographically! I suspect, however, that this sensible state of affairs is a temporary coincidence.

So, if before reading this article you were confused about the meaning of the phrase 'Official Scrabble Dictionary', I hope I've reassured you that it is not your fault.

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