From social media buzzwords like subtweet and adorbs to food terms including queso and matcha, the additions also reflect today’s culture, the evolution of language, and the fact that sometimes game-playing folx just want to embiggen their vocabulary, verb a noun, or subtweet their opponents — amirite?
And they mean excitement for word nerds, from holiday-gathering dabblers to top players.
“There’s so many more opportunities to play a little differently because of these new words,” said Robin Pollock Daniel, 60, an expert Scrabble player from Toronto who has at times been the highest-ranked female player in North America. “It makes Scrabble one of the most exciting games that there are out there because it’s dynamic and constantly changing.”
All words that were new to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and fit the Scrabble rules were added to gameplay, Merriam-Webster editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski told The Washington Post. To be added to the dictionary, a word must be used frequently by many publications and writers, with evidence of long-term and widespread use.
“A lot of these are basically artifacts of the dictionary itself,” Sokolowski said. For instance, dumpster was changed in the dictionary from a trademark, with a capital D, to a noun, meaning it is now legitimate in Scrabble. “We’ve changed a grammatical distinction, which has an effect on Scrabble.”
Perhaps none of the additions evokes the current era as much as vax and vaxed (which can also be spelled vaxxed, though Scrabble contains only one X tile). Other words made ubiquitous in recent years include bodycam, unmute and of course, covid.
The internet’s influence on the language is also clear: Unfollow, stan, chatbot, autofill and deepfake are now valid for play.
The dictionary also expands the pool of foreign language words, drawing from the dictionary’s inclusion of words deemed part of the English vernacular. Many of them relate to food, including Spanish words like carnitas and horchata, along with iftar, the meal eaten by Muslims at sundown during Ramadan, and kharif, the Indian subcontinent’s fall harvest.
It also added boricua, a term for someone from Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican descent, and folx, a word for a group of people that’s used to signal the inclusion of marginalized communities.
“That’s really exciting,” Pollock Daniel told The Washington Post. “All of that promotes, to me, inclusivity, and makes the game far more exciting and more kind.”
Changes have the power to dramatically alter how the game is played. In recent years, the addition of two-letter words za and qi had a seismic effect, essentially changing “the entire game,” said Orry Swift, a Texas accounting professor and Scrabble expert who came in second in this year’s North American championship in Baltimore.
“If you’re adding long words — seven, eight, nine letters — those tend to have a very low impact on our game. If you’re adding short words, two or three letters, that can potentially change the entire way we play,” Swift told The Post.
This round of additions doesn’t include any major game-changers, players said, although a few three-letter words, including bae (a slang term of endearment) and aro (an abbreviation for aromantic), add new possibilities to the game board.
Scrabble can be played with any dictionary, as long as the players agree on which one they’re using. Tournament players in the United States and Canada use a separate, more frequently updated word list maintained by the North American Scrabble Players Association, but the organization will add all the words in this batch, said NASPA chief executive John Chew.
He analyzed the updated dictionary to create a list of the new words and said the group’s new list would be released in about six months, so the 500 additions will become accepted in competitive play before the next national championship in July. (Most international competitions use another list, Collins Scrabble Words, for which the North American championship also has a division.)
The addition of new words means players have to “reprogram part of their brains,” Chew said, something that some players enjoy and others may grouse about.
“They have to know, going forward, that if you play the word ugly, now you’ll be able to play F in front of the word to make the word fugly,” he said, “and that’ll have a strategic consequence.”
While the delight for casual players may lie not in the points but in the novelty of laying down words like grawlix, jedi or guac, many expert players quickly memorize new additions, often using a word-scrambling computer program to train.
“We have a weird relationship to the words; it’s kind of abstract. We don’t care what a lot of them mean, so when [a new] word shows up, it’s just an opportunity to score more points,” said expert player Jesse Day, 35, of Texas, who won a national championship in 2019. “It’s just more possibilities and more fun.”
The new word that can get you the highest score? Fauxhawk, referring to the hairstyle, Sokolowski said — worth 28 points. Zuke, short for zucchini, may also prove useful, he said. Vax and dox, and their variants, allow for use of the high-scoring X.
New seven- and eight-letter words — high-scoring but rarer because a player’s hand only has seven letters — include lesser-known terms like ambigram (“a word that forms another word when viewed another way”), zeedonk (“a hybrid between a zebra and a donkey”) and eggcorn (“a word that sounds like and is mistaken for another word”).
Sokolowski said he’s delighted by additions such as empath, embiggen and ixnay — and verb as a verb. (To verb a noun is to turn a noun into a verb, such as with angsting, spitballing, or adulting, all also newly valid Scrabble words.)
“If I had to pick a favorite one, it would be the verbing of verb, because it’s a linguistic phenomenon that has real consequences in the game,” Sokolowski said. “We’re recording that [phenomenon], and now it’s playable.”
Pollock Daniel said the game becomes better for high-level players with each new word that can be used strategically. She planned to start studying the new list.
“Absolutely I will be devouring these words,” she said. “Can’t wait to use them. The more words you have, the more powerful you are as a player.”