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How lexicons are compiled

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This article on how lexicons are compiled was originally edited from email messages sent by Jim Pate, former chair of the Dictionary Committee. For a more technical discussion of how NWL2018 was edited, see the NWL2018 editorial process.

The reason that words like UQUQ (filial impiety), NOIO (a Hawaiian bird) or MONOID (a type of mathematical set) are not in the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary (OSPD) nor in the NASPA Word List (NWL) is that they have not been found listed appropriately in any of the source dictionaries that were used to create and to update these word lists.

”Appropriately“ here means that a word must appear at least once without any of the following disqualifications:

  • capital letters in the word
  • punctuation marks in the word
  • labelled as foreign (or a specific language other than English)
  • labelled as an abbreviation
  • appearing as part of a phrase

The four college level source dictionaries used to create the OSPD4 and the OWL2 were:

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
  • American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th edition
  • Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition
  • Random-House Webster's College Dictionary, 2000 2nd revised and updated Random House edition

Also, for the original OSPD one other source dictionary (Funk & Wagnall's Standard College Dictionary, 1974) was one of five sources used, and some words from earlier editions of the OSPD have been grandfathered as explained in the Dictionary Committee page. Since these sources are all abridged dictionaries many valid words that are not as frequently used do not appear in them.

The best way to get words into a future edition of the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary (and the NASPA Word List) is to convince the editors at Merriam-Webster to add them to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary which has always been one of the source dictionaries for the OSPD official words.

Jim Lowe, past Senior Editor at Merriam-Webster, Inc. suggested sending a dozen or so documented print usages of the proposed words to them for their citation files. Google Books is a great way to find citations. At that point the editors will do additional research to determine the advisability of inclusion of the new terms into Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.

The mailing address is:

 Merriam-Webster, Inc.  
 47 Federal Street 
 P.O. Box 281 
 Springfield, MA 01102

When the next edition of the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary is done, the new words that have made their way into Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary should then be incorporated into the OSPD and thus become legal words for tournament and club play.

In international play, a similar process is followed by HarperCollins Publishing to prepare the larger Official Scrabble Words lexicon. Comments concerning that list should be directed to the International Committee for forwarding to the WESPA Dictionary Committee.

As for your group using these words as you play, that's the great thing about Scrabble; if you and your opponents agree on the dictionary or word list you want to use then you are by all means free to do so. Of course, if you play at a NASPA club or sanctioned tournament then the word list used for adjudication there would be the current edition of NWL. (If you cannot get all of the people in your group to allow these words in all the games you play, you might want to suggest including them as acceptable in a certain percentage of designated games. It could be a fun variation for your group from time to time.)

We hope that you and your friends continue to enjoy playing Scrabble whatever word source you choose to use.