What is a word? And why do word games disagree?

Why can you play DA in Words with Friends®, but not in SCRABBLE®?  Actually, you can play it in Scrabble, just not in North American Scrabble. In the UK and Australia, DA is perfectly acceptable. What’s it mean? According to the Australian Scrabble site, a DA is a Burmese heavy knife. It’s helpful to know what it means. That way, you know you can add an S to make DAS, which is dandy. I mean, it’s dandy if you’re playing Scrabble in the UK or Australia. But, it’s not so dandy for Word Skill players, because our DA, which is only in one of the three dictionaries we use to assemble our word list, cannot be pluralized. According to our Oxford Dictionary, DA is a “nonstandard spelling of the, used in representing informal speech.” Likewise, DA cannot be pluralized in Words with Friends.

There are many English word lists out there, but the main ones word game players would care about are:

  1. The Official Word List (OWL), also known as the Tournament Word List (TWL). This is the word list used in Scrabble in North America.
  2. SOWPODS. This is the word list used in Scrabble outside of North America. It’s much larger than OWL.
  3. ENABLE. Unlike OWL and SOWPODS, this is an open source word list used by many games.  Word Skill and Words with Friends both use the ENABLE list as a starting point, but remove words deemed offensive and add words they feel should be included (for example, DA).

How the Word Skill Word List was Assembled

As I mentioned above, we started with the ENABLE word list. Then we selected three popular dictionaries and combed through them manually for additional words. It was a painstaking process, but gave us what we feel is a very solid word list. However, the list is not set in stone. For example, the word TEXTING is not in ENABLE and it doesn’t yet show up in any of the three dictionaries we used, but it is certainly a word, so we added it to the Word Skill word list.

Within Word Skill, you can dispute words using the question mark (?) icon. We will look at these suggestions and when we feel that a word perhaps should be included (or excluded), but aren’t sure, we may ask for a vote on our Facebook page or elsewhere.

So, there are two ways you may be able to have a say in what words are words and what words aren’t:

  1. Use the Dispute Word feature in the game itself: ? > FEEDBACK > DISPUTE WORD.
  2. Follow us on Facebook and vote on disputed words. We’ll have our first vote soon.

As a complete aside, DA was my oldest son’s first word. I just wasn’t aware it was a word when he said it.

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