Category Archives: Scrabble

Three-letter Scrabble Words Beginning with E

Words we already knew


Words we already knew because they are plurals of a two-letter word


Special shout-out to EEN, taking an old-styled plural there, just to keep us interested.

The return of mouth sounds!

EEKwhen scared
EEWwhen disgusted
EFFwhen angry, but not angry enough to actually swear
ERM#when uncertain


The Old English letter representing the sound usually written in English as “th” (lower-case ð, upper-case Ð)
ESSThe letter S
ETAThe Greek letter E (upper-case Η lower-case η)
ENGThe glyph ŋ, used in phonetics to represent the sound usually written in English as “ng”, but which never caught on as a letter. Not to be confused with a lower-case ETA. Also AGMA (but not engma)


ECO= ecology. A noun. I would have assumed this was a contraction of “ecologically”, but apparently not, and it takes an S.
EMO= emotional. The music genre.

More actual French

EAUwater. As, presumably, in eau de cologne.


EFToriginally any small lizard, now mostly used (inasmuch as it’s used at all) to refer to newts
ELT#a young sow, also YELT#
ERNa sea eagle, or, poetically and historically, any eagle. Also ERNE. Now chiefly seen in American-style crosswords.
EWT#a small salamander, also NEWT. Famously one of those words that migrated from being “an ewt” to “a newt”.
A Haast eagle swooping to catch a moa
Not really an ern or an emu, but close enough

Regional, Dialect, and Obsolete

EAN#(of a EWE) to give birth to a lamb
to augment, as in EKE, also ECHE, EECH, ICH
ECUan old French coin. The ECU, European Currency Unit was named with the coin in mind, but is still an acronym.
ELDold age. Hence elder, elderly, Eldar
ELLa measure of length. As with all such ancient measures, not well-standardised. The English ell was equivalent to 45 inches, the Scottish to 37.2 inches, the Flemish to 27 inches. The same “el” as in “elbow” and “ulna”, because the word derives from words for arm, the measure being notionally the length of an arm, or some portion of it.
EMEan uncle. Recorded earlier than “uncle”, but not since the 19th century
ENE#variant of EVEN as in “evening” (poetic)
ERF#South African word for ‘a garden plot, usually containing about half-an-acre’ (plural ERVEN). From a Dutch root meaning “inheritance”, as found in “orphan”, not a eye-dialect spelling of “earth”
ERK#an aircraftsman. 1920s-1940s. A 1944 quote derives it: “a shortened pronunciation of the italicised letters in air mechanic (perhaps in the form of ‘air mech’)… Some airmen less convincingly maintain that it comes from ‘lower-deck hand’.”. However, there is an earlier citation from 1925:  “Erk, a rating. (Navy). Lower deck colloquialism for any ‘rank’ not that of an officer”.  Although military jargon is the most productive way acronyms become words, it’s still less common than supposed. I would be unsurprised if this originated as a variant of OIK.
ESTAn alternative philosophy and technique (Erhard Seminars Training, run in the 1970s-1980s) intended to raise self-awareness and ‘human potential’, involving philosophical and psychological means, including motivational theories from the business world. More fossilised woo. Woo hoo.
Scots and northern English dialect. To itch. Also YUKE, YOUK
EVO#Australian slang for evening. Comes after AVO
EXO#Australian slang for excellent. Not “executive officer”, does not take an S.

Back to some stand-out nonsense here. Editors, please remove:

  • EST – an acronym and obsolete
  • ECH, EIK, EUK, EWK – words from before the invention of spelling

ERK maybe gets a pass for another couple of decades, but we need some statute of limitations of temporally-localised slang like this, and “lifetime of speakers for whom this is idiomatic” seems like a reasonable one. I can imagine EMO and EEW being scorned as fossils within a few decades too, and letting things rotate out seems preferable to a lexicon forever increasing in density of obsolete slang.

Three-letter Scrabble Words Beginning with D

Obviously Words


Less Obviously Words, but you probably know them

DOB#yes like on the playground
DOX#yes like on the internet
DOMofficially not like the sex thing, but still a noun, so more memorable to pretend it is
DANofficially not like the judo thing, but still a noun, so more memorable to pretend it is

Words we already knew because they are plurals of a two-letter word


Words that are valid plurals but we wish they weren’t

DEI#Another plural of DEUS, which calls even more into question the validity of DI, even if we grant that DEUS should be permitted.
DUIA plural of DUO, allegedly. Can’t imagine anyone using this with a straight face.

Letters and Sounds

DEEThe letter D
DAHThe long – sound in Morse code.
DITThe short . sound in Morse code. Also exists as a probably-extinct verb, which I won’t dignify with a detailed examination.
DOHThe musical note that is not in fact a deer.
DUHThe sound used to pass judgment on another’s ignorance… Duh.

Reasonable Abbreviations

DEBdebutante. As in the attendee of a deb ball
DEPdepot? As in a small shop
DIFdifference. Also DIFF
DISdisrespect. Also DISS
DOCdoctor. As in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Regionalisms and Dialect

DAE#= do, Scots
DOO#= dove, Scots
DEF= death, meaning “excellent”. As in Mos Def.
DEG#to drizzle or sprinkle with water (e.g. to water plants). Yorkshire/Lancashire dialect.
DOY#a loved one. Yorkshire dialect. Possible from “joy”, making it similar to Scots JO?
DOF#stupid, from Afrikaans. See also doublet DOWF, which is also a noun where DOF is not. Beloved of the writers on School of Comedy.

Loan Words

DAKfrom Hindi, the mail-post relay system formerly used in India. Also DAWK
DALfrom Hindi, lentils and the dish made of them. Also DAAL, DAHL, and DHAL
DEVfrom Hindi, a god. Also DEVA. Or possibly from Farsi, an evil spirit. Also DIV, DEEV. Also a contraction of “developer” or “development”.
DIV#from Farsi, an evil spirit. Also DEV, DEEV. Also the mathematical function.
DUMfrom Hindi, a method of cooking food with steam.
DEYfrom Turkish via French. A former North African ruler, from Turkish dai, maternal uncle. The titular appellation of the commanding officer of the Janissaries of Algiers, who, after having for some time shared the supreme power with the pasha or Turkish civil governor, in 1710 deposed the latter, and became sole ruler. Until themselves deposed and replaced by BEYs again, around 1830.

= ZO. From Tibetan. A cross between a yak (presumably a domestic yak, B. grunniens, rather than a wild yak B. mutus) and a cow, also ZHO and DZHO (for the infertile males of the breed- Haldane’s rule strikes again), and JOMO, and ZHOMO (for the fertile females). Also known as a YAKOW.

Nonsense (verbs)

DAGThe clotted tufts of wool around a sheep’s bum, and the act of removing them. More familiar in the derived Australian sense of an unfashionable or uncool person, of which I was delighted to learn the etymological root.
DAWTo dawn. Lately (since 1600 or so) in Scots only. Is it still current, who knows?
All seem related to DIP, particularly in the sense of fishing by allowing the bait to dip onto the water. None of them current. Note that using a DIBBER is to DIBBLE not to DIB.
DOD#To make the top or head of (anything) blunt, rounded, or bare; hence, to clip or poll the hair of (a person); to deprive (an animal) of its horns; to poll or lop (a tree), etc.; also figurative to behead. Although if the OED citations can be trusted, most recently used to mean… DAG. And of course by “most recently” I don’t mean in the last 150 years.
DORTo mock, befool, confound. Last citation 1675, well before the QUIZ era. Also DORR
DOWTo do well, thrive, or prosper. Last citation 1855. Last citation not from a dictionary of dialect words, 1758. Also DOCHT or DOUGHT, but conjugates only as DOWED, DOWING, DOWS. Is this related to as in DOUGHTY?
DUPTo open (a door or gate). Seems to be a contraction of “do up (the portcullis)” in the same way as doff, don, etc.

Nonsense (nouns)

DELAn operator in differential calculus. . Also NABLA. For a brief period during my studies, I knew all about how to use the del operator. But that period did not extend as far as the exams, let alone until today, so I direct interested parties to the wikipedia page.
DEX= dextroamphetamine sulfate, aka dexedrine. It does amphetamine things.
DOLIn 1940, James D. Hardy, Harold G. Wolff and Helen Goodell of Cornell University introduced the first dolorimeter as a method for evaluating the effectiveness of analgesic medications… They developed a pain scale, called the “Hardy-Wolff-Goodell” scale, with 10 gradations, or 10 levels, [named] “dols”. Other researchers were not able to reproduce the results… and the device and the approach were abandoned.
DUX#Collins highlights the sense: the best academic performer in a school class. Supposedly used in Scotland, but all the recent uses I see online are from Liberia.
Other senses relate to dukes, leaders, and in music the leading voice in a fugue or canon.

Much higher nonsense-density here than with B or C. Let’s keep DAG, DEL, and DUX, and cast the rest of these last 13 into the void.

Three-letter Scrabble Words Beginning with C

Obviously Words


CWM is somewhat well-known as one of the few English words where W is a vowel. Cognate with the more ordinary-looking “coombe“, now mostly found in place names, and also meaning some kind of valley. The Landreader Project says that in North Wales, a cwm is more like a cirque, whereas in South Wales, more loosely a valley.

Photo of The Nameless Cwm, taken from above
The Nameless Cwm

Less Obviously Words

CEEThe letter C
CEPA kind of edible mushroom. These days perhaps better known as porcino.
CHA#Tea: “cha” if by land, “tea” if by sea, also CHAI
CHIThe Greek letter, or the alternative transliteration of QI
CISThe opposite of TRANS. But, like, in the context of the arrangement of atoms in complex molecules
CRUA French vineyard or wine-producing region, or the grade of wine produced there.

Some Abbreviations

CAZ#casual. I don’t like when Z is used for the voiced palato-alveolar fricative, but English lacks much alternative. I recently discovered that Collins thinks there is a word spelled ZHOOSH, which is clearly incorrect, even for a word where all possible spellings will look incorrect.
CIT#citizen. Either as in civilian, non-military, or city-dweller; often disparagingly.

Some Nonsense

These can go, thanks.

CAA#Scots dialect for “call”
CHE#Devonshire dialect for “I”. Current 1500s-1700s
CID#With reference to El Cid (es Sayd), a (military) leader.
CLY#To steal, or seize. Possibly cognate with “claw” via Dutch? Last used by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in the 1820s, dropping 17th century cant with an awkward clang, using phrases that look like they were taken directly from dictionaries. Seems to have been used mostly in set phrases anyway, e.g. “the ruffian cly thee” ~ “the devil take you”.

Three-letter Scrabble Words Beginning with B

Part two of a twenty-six part series.

Words we already knew


BEL of course, being 10 decibels.

Words we already knew because they are plurals of a two-letter word


More mouth sounds!


Easy loan words

BAO#Chinese steamed bun
BENScottish mountain peak (as in Ben Nevis)
BESAnother Hebrew letter. The second of the alphabet, also BETH (plural is BESES)
BEYTurkish governor
BOK#Africaans for an antelope, as in Springbok, Reebok. Like buck.

Words that were new to me

BAC#Baccalaureate, a university degree
BALA type of shoe, from “Balmoral”. Detailed shoe nerdery at this guide.
BAMTo hoax. Possibly from “bamboozle”. Current in the early 18th century. Also as a noun in the Scots sense.
BEZ#The second tine of a deer’s horn. Not in the OED, but Google Books is convincing.
BOI#In various contexts, an alternative spelling of “boy”.
BON#Good, adj. Literally French again, but part of multiple naturalized phrases. I’m sure I read somewhere that that qualified things for inclusion. I’m choosing to believe BONIER and BONIEST wouldn’t be valid if BONY wasn’t a word.
BOR#A form of address for a neighbour, formerly used in East Anglian dialect.
BRU#Like BRO, but more South African. Some examples
BURVariant of BURR, in many of its meanings, including as a rough edge, or the act of removing a rough edge.

Top 5 4 sketchy inclusions:

None of these seem as bad as the bad A words.

  • BES should be dropped in favour of BETH, we don’t need two competing transliterations for the Hebrew letters. (But this will also cost some useful 2-letter words, so I’m happy to let it slide.)
  • BOH is every day losing ground to DOH, but Francis Beaumont has won me round to it:
  • BOR might be the most obscure, but it has citations from the 19th century.
  • BUR is usually a spelling error

Good job, B words

Three-letter Scrabble Words Beginning With A

Part one of a twenty-six part series.

Words we already knew

  • ALP is usually capitalized, but it can be used generically to mean “a mountain like what they have in Switzerland”.
  • APP is a contraction with wide enough currency to become a headword. Congrats, app.

Words we already knew because they are plurals of a two-letter word


It’s not totally obvious that AH and AY can be pluralized, but the act of making the sound is a noun, so the plural plays.

More mouth sounds!


AAH and AHA are pretty standard, ACH is somewhere between ARGH and UGH and OCH, I suppose, ARF is a somewhat standard dog, AUE is from Māori, and I predict it will be the word from this list that I have the hardest time remembering.

Animals and Plants

ANIA bird of the genus Crotophaga. Isn’t that helpful? See below for a picture of an ani I met in Belize.
AHIA large tuna; esp. the bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus, and the yellowfin tuna, T. albacares. From Hawaiian. I don’t have a picture of any of the fishes.
AUA#The yellow-eyed mullet, Aldrichetta forsteri, from Māori
AYU#A small fish, Plecoglossus altivelis, native to Japan and the surrounding areas. Also known as “sweetfish”, because it is ayummy thing to eat.
A picture of a thick-billed ani, in a tree, looking pensive
A thick-billed ani, looking pensive
AALA small rubiaceous tree, Morinda citrifolia… wait a minute, it’s the Indian Mulberry again! As found in AL and ALS.
AJIA South American chili pepper. From Taino via Spanish
AKA#A vine, Metrosideros scandens, found in New Zealand. Probably going to pretend to myself that this is the abbreviation for “also known as”, which is basically lexicalised at this point, right?
ALU#The potato. Also ALOO. From Hindi
AVASame as KAVA, i.e. An intoxicating beverage prepared from the macerated roots of the Polynesian shrub Piper methysticum. Also, this plant, or its root. But not the same as CAVA, which is a different intoxicating beverage.

Niche and antique words. How many did you know?

ABB#Originally the woof or weft in a web. Later also the warp in a web. What a yarn.
ABYto pay the penalty [v ABOUGHT, ABYING, ABYS or ABIES]. Is that… Faerie Queene again? Yes, yes, everyone else in history spelled it ABYE. Thanks Eddy. File with NY and FY.
AITA small island, often a river island. Also EYOT. Relates to the I of ISLAND (into which, we recall, Francophiles inserted the S unnecessarily), but not directly to anything about ISLET. Probably. Don’t AIT me.
ALAIn biology, any flat winglike projection. The ala of the nose (ala nasi, “wing of the nose“; plural alae) is the lower lateral surface of the external nose, shaped by the alar cartilage and covered in dense connective tissue. Yes, ALAR and ALAE and ALAS, alas.
ALBA white vestment reaching the feet and enveloping the entire body, worn by clergy, servers, and others taking part in church services. So-called because it was white.
ALF#Collins claims this is derogatory Australian slang for a uncultivated person, or yob. If so, it has fallen out of use – I can’t find an internet-era slang dictionary with this word. Possibly current during one or both of the world wars, and fossilised in some reference source I can’t access.
ALTThe octave directly above the treble staff. c.f. ALTO
AMUA unit of mass. Specifically, the atomic mass unit. Hm. See also ECU.
ANAA collection of reminiscences, sketches, information, etc, of or about a person or place (as in Americana?! ). I had no idea this was ever a standalone word.
OED confirms: “Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which..for its intrinsic worth, is the Ana of all Anas.” – R. Southey, Doctor (1847) vol. VII. 347 🦆
ANN#A half-year’s salary, legally due to the executors of the will of a deceased minister of the Church of Scotland, paid in addition to any stipend owing at the time of the minister’s death; Contraction of ANNAT or ANNATES, but not ANNATE*. This is hilariously niche, well played both lexicons.
ANS#As in “ifs and ans”, things that might have happened, but which did not. Short for AND, obviously.
APO(allegedly) a type of protein (apolipoprotein). No entry in OED or Collins online, only as an adjective on Wiktionary. The road of allowing arbitrary chemistry prefixes leads to madness.
ARBContraction of ARBITRAGEUR (one who engages in arbitrage).
ARD#A primitive plough (possibly it was ‘arder to pull). Used in discussions of Norse archaeology.
AUF#Variant spelling of the already-obscure OUPHE, a changeling child supposedly left by fairies in exchange for one stolen.
AWK#A programming language and flat-out proper noun that slipped through because it’s usually written in lowercase.
AWNThe delicate spinous process, or ‘beard,’ that terminates the grain-sheath of barley, oats, and other grasses; extended in Botany to any similar bristly growth. Also seems to be an adjective (having awn) and a verb (to hand an awning), and hence AWN takes all the suffixes: -S -ED, -ING, -LESS, -ER, -Y, -IER, -IEST
AZOMore chemistry: of, consisting of, or containing the divalent group -N:N-

Loan words that have legit been adopted into English, in no particular order

AINThe 16th Hebrew letter, which of course has another transliteration, AYIN.
ATTA monetary unit in Laos, 1/100th of a kip. Now inflated away, no coins minted since 1980
ATS#Many atts, except using the single-T transliteration.
AVOA monetary unit in Macao, 1/100th of a pataca. Not yet inflated away. From Portuguese fractions, cognate with the suffix in octavo.
ABAa Syrian cloth, also as ABAYA
AGAa Turkish military officer, also AGHA, as in the Agha Khan. Not the oven.
AIA#Same as AYAH, but not AYA*. A female domestic servant or nursemaid in south Asia
AMASame as AMAH. A female domestic servant in east Asia. Amah/Ayah details on WIkipedia

Just actual non-English words wtf

AVEThe Latin greeting. Somehow legal. OED has it as a verb, “to greet with shouts of Ave“, but this AVE is Collins’ “sentence substitute”, and does not conjugate (but does pluralise).
AME#A soul. This is just French. Even Collins spells it âme.
AMIA friend. Also literally just French. OED has citations from the fourteenth century, when the king was French and lines were a little blurred, and from the nineteenth century, in italics.

Dialect spelling variants

AFF= OFF, Scots
AKE#= ACHE, old
ANE= ONE, old
ARY#= EVER, southern US
AWA= AWAY, Scots

As usual, the North American dictionary cuts out a lot of the complete nonsense words, although not ABY, which is weird, given the lack of NY and FY.

Top five words doing a bad job of justifying their legality:

  • ABY
  • AIA
  • ALF
  • AMI
  • AME
  • APO
  • AWK

Ok, seven. Yeesh.

More two-letter words for Scrabble

The two-letter word viewer has been updated to include three new two-letter words for 2019. Both the North America (TWL) and International (CSW) lexicons will now include OK and EW. From players, the general reaction to EW was “ok”, and to OK was “ew”. The International lexicon update also includes ZE, the gender-neutral third person singular subjective pronoun. I wonder if the categorisation system needs (or will need) a category of words that are unfamiliar not because they are old but because they are young.

Ruminations on language evolution, the editorial decision-making of lexicon compilation, lawn-defence, etc., are left as an exercise for the reader.

The One Hundred and Twenty-Four Shortest Words in Scrabble

An unhealthy degree of familiarity with the permissible two-letter words is one of the early warning signs of a Scrabble addict. International tournament Scrabble permits 124 two letter words, but only around half of them are everyday words, with the rest an odd mix of variant spellings, foreign-derived obscurities, and written forms of things you didn’t know were words: like the letter R, spelled AR, obviously, or the expression of scepticism produced when first seeing it played, spelled HM (or HMM). For those people who imagine the game is about playing words from one’s own working vocabulary, it can be quite annoying when an opponent drops GU and points smugly at the appropriate page in the definitionless lexicon rather than talking convincingly about their keen interest in Shetland Island folk music.

So, for anyone fed up of being on either end of that kind of conversation, here is a handy semi-interactive visual guide to the two letter words in Scrabble.

Despite usually playing the role of smug GU-player, I have some sympathy for the other point of view. Here’s five 2-letter words doing a bad job of justifying their place in the lexicon:


The Collins dictionary (i.e. International Scrabble) description even says “obsolete form of I”. I chalk this one up to lobbying from players who desperately wanted to be able to play C in a two-letter word.


Collins claims this is a plural form of DEUS. I mean, DEUS isn’t really English either, except as a Plantagenet-era interjection. Is this the foreign word in multiple phrases thing? Though I tip my hat to the scholars trying to make “di ex machina” happen, I am unconvinced by it’s Scrabbleworthiness.


A hypothetical force proposed by Baron Karl von Reichenbach as pervading all nature and accounting for various physical and psychological phenomena. Here’s a brief history. The hypothesis was not very successful. In W. Gregory’s translation of von Reichenbach’s reseaches, we are told “the author has given to the new imponderable the name of Od, a name not possessing any meaning, but admitting of being compounded, according to the genius of the German language.” It didn’t catch on at the time, it’s not going to now, and failed coinages are always a little tragic. Best to lay it to rest.

That kind of universal-fluid-life-force theory was big in the mid-19th century. Bulwer-Lytton’s VRIL is a similar concept, maintaining a similarly dubious place in the lexicon, but its usefulness as a way to dump a V is some compensation.

These subterranean philosophers assert that, by one operation of vril, which Faraday would perhaps call “atmospheric magnetism,” they can influence the variations of temperature—in plain words, the weather; that by other operations, akin to those ascribed to mesmerism, electro-biology, odic force, &c., but applied scientifically through vril conductors, they can exercise influence over minds, and bodies animal and vegetable, to an extent not surpassed in the romances of our mystics.

— Edward Bulwer-Lytton, demonstrating his mastery of both science and prose, in Vril, The Coming Race.


Unusually, it’s the North American lexicon which is dodgy here. The Hasbro dictionary search defines OE as “a whirlwind off the Faeroe Islands”, which definition seems to have been copied verbatim, from dictionary to dictionary, without anyone wondering whether it was still useful.

oe, n. A whirlwind off the Faeroe Islands.
The American Practical Navigator, US Govt. NIMA (19822002)

oe (ō), n. A whirlwind off the Faeroe Islands.
Navigation Dictionary, US Hydrographic Office (1956)

Oe. A violent whirlwind off the Ferroe Islands.
Naval Encyclopaedia, Philadelphia (1881)

OE. An island [from the Ang-Sax.] Oes are violent whirlwinds off the Ferroe Islands, said at times to raise the water in syphons.
The Sailor’s Word-Book, London (1867)

150-year-old copypasta.

Collins defines OE as “grandchild”, a variant of Scots dialect “OY”, and various dictionaries list that meaning, and/or oe, “a small island”. It would be nice if either meaning had citations more recent than the time Walter Scott finished translating his collection of Danish ballads, but at least there’s some evidence that OE was actually used in those senses.


A dialect word for cows, apparently used in Scots and northern dialects. Fair enough, maybe, except the OED’s usage quotations have the word spelled KYE in every instance since 1522. Might be time to retire the shorter variant? Same argument goes for NY and FY, come to think of it. Allowing spelling variants that haven’t been used since the invention of spelling just makes you looks silly.