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Scrabble For Word Lovers

The word set and "challenge rule"

There are two absolutely fundamental rules applying to all four Scrabble For Word Lovers games.

1. The word set will be based on a regular American college dictionary. If that makes sense to you, you don't need to read another word about the word set below.

2. The "challenge rule" can be stated simply as "good words only." So you see there really is no personal challenge element in Scrabble For Word Lovers (which explains the quotes around "challenge rule".) If you want to score points on your turn, the burden falls squarely on your shoulders to play a valid word. Bluffing and honest mistakes will get you nowhere. If that makes sense to you, you don't need to read another word about the "challenge rule" below.

RULE 1 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - The word set

RULE 1.1 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - Regular dictionary

Scrabble For Word Lovers is conceived as a vocabulary-based game for word fans. All four games use the same word set in tune with a regular, American English collegiate dictionary since such dictionaries already go way beyond any individual's working vocabulary.

If you've come to identify Scrabble with the funny, little Scrabble words seen on all modern Scrabble boards, fine, you may stick with that game. Scrabble For Word Lovers will not be forced on anyone.

Or, you might give Scrabble For Word Lovers a try as "something else". And you just might find that "something else" a much richer game experience.

But understand that you may NOT play Scrabble For Word Lovers with any of the existing Scrabble dictionaries as the primary authority. That would create an absurdity, undermining the whole point of Scrabble For Word Lovers, sort of like hiring a graffiti vandal to redecorate your house.

How one can employ a regular dictionary in home play would seem to present a problem since they don't generally show all the formatives, such as the UN- and RE- words, or even the -S plurals. I'll bet you can't find APPLES in your favorite, trusty, printed dictionary. Regular dictionaries are not put together with word gamers in mind.

But there is a way. Use a combination of your favorite dictionary and the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD).

First of all, the base word must be in your regular dictionary. Then, if it is, any formative shown in the OSPD is acceptable. So, for example, if someone plays BASHINGS, and your regular dictionary doesn't show it, but includes the base word BASH (which, of course, it will) you may go to the OSPD to check BASHINGS.

RULE 1.2 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - The two-letter words

The two-letter words are of fundamental importance in the Scrabble For Word Lovers games (as they are in classic Scrabble.) They are the connectors that allow you to place fully formed words from your rack on the board. Think of them as equipment. No game or sport makes sense if the opponents are not equally equipped.

For that reason, and because most of the two-letter words in even a regular dictionary would look pretty strange even to English scholars, the two-letter word list is made available to any player who wants to refer to it during play.

Here is a carefully considered two-letter word list that has worked beautifully for years.

      The 72 "Respectable"  
        Two-Letter Words   
    AB   DO   ID   OF   TA 
    AD        IF   OH   TI 
    AG   ED   IN   ON   TO 
    AH   EF   IS   OR      
    AI   EH   IT   OS   UH 
    AM   EL        OW   UM 
    AN   EM   LA   OX   UP 
    AR   EN   LI        US 
    AS   ER   LO   PA   UT 
    AT   EX        PI      
    AW        MA        WE 
    AX   FA   ME   RE   WO 
    AY        MI           
         GO   MU   SH   XI 
    BE        MY   SI      
    BI   HA        SO   YE 
    BY   HE   NO        YO 
         HI   NU           

I arrived at this list by examining the 101 two-letter words in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD, 4th edition, 2006). Seventy-eight (78) of them were found in a regular dictionary (American Heritage, 4th edition). And then I rejected 6 of those 78 for being too foreign (AA AE JO PE QI) or too stupid (ZA).

Although there is some pretty cheap junk in the list of 72 keepers -- who ever counted grunts and groans as real words growing up??? -- there is a good dose of order to it. The list consists of 34 very familiar words known to one and all (AM BY IF NO OX UP WE, etc.), and 38 cheapies that can be conveniently categorized as follows:

  English letters: EF EL EM EN AR EX (no ES).
  Greek letters: MU NU PI XI.
  Notes of the scale: DO/UT RE MI FA SO LA SI/TI DO.
  Interjections: AH AW EH ER HA HO OH OW SH UH UM YO.
  Lazy-mouth clips: AB AG BI ED.
  Uncommon: AI (sloth); LI (Chinese 500m); OS (mouth, or bone); 
            TA (thanks); WO (woe); UT and SI (musical notes).

And the "uncommon" two-letter words really aren't so bad. Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne both used "wo"; Paul McCartney acknowledged Beatles' audiences bilingually, "Ta, thanks!"; singers know si; musicologists know ut; think of bony OS-sify and OS-teoporosis. Never met an ai in my readings or the wild, but I believe they've been hanging around since before Scrabble.

On the other hand, here are the 29 rejects.


Now that should look like a pretty bizarre list of words to any thinking English speaker! For the most part, Scrabble players play these things mindlessly, without any thought of meaning. Still, a small handful might look somewhat justifiable. Here are the very best of the lot, and why a regular dictionary might reject them.

  ES: properly spelled "ess". 
  ET: past tense of "eat" properly spelled "eat", as in read/read, 
      hear/heard, mean/meant, etc.  
  HM and MM: recently added grunts.  SH is our only vowel-less two, 
      and was scandalous itself in the first Scrabble dictionary!  
  JO: Scots.  If "jo" is normal English, how come we don't sing, "For 
      auld lang syne, my jo"?  
  OM: proper noun, Om; the most sacred sound.  
  OP: only seen as part of the unit "op art". 
  OI and OY.  Does basic English need Yiddish grunts?  
  QI and ZA: recently added Scrabble wreckers.  Qi is a wee bit furrin' 
      and generally proper; ZA is an embarrassment to anyone with a brain. 

And it's all downhill from there.

You might think giving up funny, little Scrabble words will hamper your Scrabble playing, but I assure you they are what's been holding you back. The OSPD is so full of them that you can't escape their grip. It's no wonder your average word length is little more than three letters, and you've taken to calling Scrabble a "strategy game".

On the other hand, our Scrabble club has always used a regular dictionary and the refined list of two-letter words. Take a look at all the words played in the Dover Scrabble club to see what you've been missing.

RULE 1.3 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - The Official Word Set (ORDWS)

We've discussed how to use your regular dictionary in conjunction with the OSPD for home play. Of course, there must be a standardized word set for tournament and on-line play.

The "Official Regular Dictionary Word Set" (ORDWS) for Scrabble For Word Lovers might be constructed along the following lines. Two highly respected college dictionaries will be used. All of the words common to both dictionaries will be included. For each word that appears in only one of the two dictionaries, non-Scrabble playing, word-loving outsiders, such as professional crossword puzzle makers, will decide whether or not it deserves inclusion in the ORDWS. I propose the American Heritage and the Merriam-Webster as the two dictionaries.

An alternative method might be to use the three most highly respected collegiate dictionaries, and require that a word be in at least two of the three for inclusion in the ORDWS. But even in that case, I would plead for giving the crossword puzzle makers final say regarding the obscure words on the borderline.

The ORDWS word set will be protected from mining for word lists, and will never be published in any form. Moreover, The ORDWS can be corrected, modified, or updated at any time by the disinterested keepers without any sort of notice to anyone. The "Check the OSPD" rule will safeguard you from ever being burnt on a word you know used to be acceptable.

But the bigger point is that Scrabble I is a vocabulary based game for regular people who like words and Scrabble, and will have no problem with silent updates to the word set "out there" beyond the horizon of his working vocabulary. He will place the same trust in the ORDWS that he did in any other dictionary he ever bought or used. If you can't relinquish word list style Scrabble (just yet!), those options will still be there.

Finally, notice how ORDWS starts off like "ordinary", and is an anagram of "words". It was meant to be!

RULE 2 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - The "challenge rule"

RULE 2.1 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - Good words only

"Good words only" simply means, if you play a valid word you score points. If you play an invalid word you score no points, your word comes off the board, and play passes to the next player.

Put the other way around, you will never score a point for an invalid word; and no invalid word will ever survive on the board.

Every word that's the least bit questionable is checked. There is nothing personal about checking a word. No one loses a turn for having a good word checked. Think of it as the Good Scrabble Fairy making sure no bogus junk tarnishes your beautiful Scrabble board.

In fact, "good words only" was essentially the official Scrabble rule in the beginning, going back to 1948. The challenge rule was changed in 1976, introducing poker-style bluffing to the game. Good riddance!

"Good words only" brings Scrabble in line with virtually all other games and sports; you are rewarded for success and not rewarded for failure.

RULE 2.2 (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - Playing with people who study "Scrabble words"

RULE 2.2a (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - "Check the OSPD" (official rule)

You will only need this rule if you are playing with someone who has either memorized "Scrabble words" from word lists or learned a lot of them through Scrabble osmosis. The concern is that this poor soul will have no idea which of those words are valid in a regular dictionary. With the "check the OSPD" rule, he'll never get burnt for playing a "Scrabble word."

If your dictionary rejects a played word, the player may ask to "check the OSPD". If his word is there, his play comes off the board, but he gets to make another play.

However, if he asks to check the OSPD and his word is not found there, his play comes off the board, the full value of the would-be play is deducted from his score prior to that play, and his turn is ended. That's perfectly fair for someone who wanted to blow away family and friends with oddball words, right?

That's the official rule. But there is a better rule which I leave as a recommendation only, since I doubt many modern Scrabble players would go for it. Read on.

RULE 2.2b (Scrabble For Word Lovers) - "You're on your own" (recommended option)

The reality is, we all have more or less the same working vocabularies, and we have all grown up using the same conventional dictionaries. And even the most conservative dictionaries include far more words than any person could possibly know or memorize. This is true even for Scrabble experts and their official Scrabble dictionaries. For them, as for us, the essence of the game boils down to matching wits with the dictionary maker.

So, understanding that, the good and proper rule should be, no concession to the experts regarding the obscure words they've memorized. No matter which regular dictionary is chosen, we'll all be in the same boat. Everyone will have to make educated guesses and develop a feel for how far "out there" the dictionary maker goes. The Scrabble expert would be feeling it out from above, so to speak; the word fan from below.

So, while the word fan is wondering whether the dictionary maker was hip enough to include VEXT ("Mother, vext, did whip him next"), the Scrabble expert, knowing VEXT is in the Scrabble dictionary, will wonder if he was too square to include it. Words on the borderline, like KOLO and KETO, won't even enter the word fan's mind, while the expert will have to grapple with hard decisions. (According to the Merriam-Webster, yea; the American Heritage, nay.) We'll all sweat mightily over formatives like UNTARGETED and RETARGETED, etc., etc. And all of this is exactly as it should be.

Take a look at the list of all the bum words played in the Dover Scrabble Club in 2013-2014. Matching wits with the dictionary makers is what it's all about!

So there you have it, a regular dictionary along with the "good words only" rule, provides a philosophically sound, perfectly level playing field for word fans and Scrabble experts. The difference, of course, being, that if the Scrabble world adopted Scrabble For Word Lovers, the best players would become rich superstars!


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