This was a close game where ZOO was completed with a "T" formed from a word crosswise, ELITE (on a double word score tile).
When challenged, my opponent read the definition from Merriam Webster's -- I was familiar with the term 'zoot suit' but I did not think you could play a single word when, in fact, its usage is normally found as a compound word using both zoot and suit in the traditional context.
First question: Where compound words exist, in say Webster's dictionary, but not the OSPD version (zoot not a word), I'm guessing OSPD overrides as reference for the challenge.
You guess right. The OSPD is the final arbiter.
The reason is that the Scrabble dictionary committee have already scoured their source dictionaries to determine which words should be allowed in Scrabble, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel by arguing out 'hairy' cases like this.
Are compound words split into individual forms not recognized by OSPD, or is it simply a matter of rather arbitrary usage?
Generally, parts of phrases are not considered to be words in themselves (otherwise you'd get hundreds of fragments like FU from KUNG FU and so on).
I say 'generally' because you'll probably find exceptions, where the dictionary committee have come to the conclusion that a phrase component is very obviously a decent word on its own (e.g. FOLIC from FOLIC ACID -- Merriam Webster only lists the latter.)
Another tricky source of inconsistency comes from the fact that even though Merriam Webster is the official word source for the OSPD nowadays, historically there were other source dictionaries and most of those words are still allowed. So my FOLIC example may come from an earlier dictionary.
As to your question about whether the decision is 'arbitrary'. Not exactly -- in that each case is carefully considered -- but there is a kind of arbitrariness to the particular reference dictionaries chosen in Scrabble.
You'll find that ZOOT is perfectly acceptable in International Scrabble (as opposed to North American Scrabble), for example. That's because they use different source dictionaries and have a different dictionary committee with a different take on some questions.
If you're interested in the decisions that go on behind the scene in relation to Scrabble dictionaries, you might be interested in this interview I did a little while back with Darryl Francis (head of the international Scrabble dictionary committee -- again, that's not the North American one).
After reading that interview, you'll probably understand why the Scrabble community are generally happy to have an official Scrabble dictionary ;-)
Second question: There were so few points separating us, that my challenge should have otherwise stood, therefore, not losing my turn, and my opponent not reaping the benefit of the points. Does this void the game, having challenged the form but not getting benefit of the exact reference until after the game has ended?
By the way, ZOOTY is acceptable in both Merriam Webster's and OSPD. Great adjective. Saving this little beauty for the future.
I'm afraid I'm a bit confused about your second question, but hopefully the following general response will answer it anyway.
The meaning of a word plays no role in the adjudication of challenges. As I mentioned above, a word is good if it is in the OSPD, otherwise it gets taken off.
Also, once a challenge is over there is no further opportunity to reconsider it later in the game, after a dictionary is consulted for example.
The whole idea of a Scrabble dictionary is to make it really simple. It's in or it's out -- no argument.
I hope that answers it for you. If you or anyone else has anything to add, just use the Comments area below and I'll chime in if I can help.
All the best,
P.S. You'll find a bit more relevant information on my Official Scrabble Dictionary page.
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