Foreign Words in Scrabble and Words With Friends


I was out all day on Saturday and most of Sunday. And I found when I finally got home and got some rest, to my uplifting surprise, a mention of a conversation I had with my friend, Ms. P,. a few weeks ago. This conversation, in case you didn’t read her post, was about what foreign words, if any, should be allowed in a Scrabble or Words With Friends (WWF), and what would be the rules which would govern their inclusion or exclusion.

This conversation was purely academic, but we both have a vested interest as we both play (and do quite well, I might add!) Scrabble and WWF.

I am not in any way an authority on the English language, but it is my native tongue, and I do enjoy the language with its nuances and richness of words.

Although this list was made for Scrabble and WWF the same reasoning can be used for other word games such as Boogle and Bananagrams.

The following are strictly my thoughts and conclusions.


Foreign words can be considered acceptable under the following conditions.


(1) If they are mere coincidences of an English word.

The Spanish word for the number eleven (ONCE) and the German words for the color red (ROT) and child (KINDER) come to mind.

Here is an interesting thought. If such words were to be eliminated from the English language, then the title of a popular JHS book would be, “The ____ and Future King”. OK, back to the list!

(2) Anything that is named after its inventor, developer, promoter, or discoverer, should, at least IMHO, be allowed to keep the foreign name.

These words include OHM (S) [n. A unit of electrical resistance], FERMI, HERTZ [n. A unit of frequency, esp. in electronics], LEOTARD (S) [n. A tight fitting garment worn by dancers, acrobats, etc.], and BRAILLE [n. A system of writing for the blind].

(3) Anything that an inventor, developer, promoter, or discoverer decides to name his product or discovery.

I do not know if this is a formal or informal rule, or just a tradition, but scientists love to use Greek and Latin words when naming new things. And if there is not an available word they are willing to create new words using Latin or Greek affixes. Which is why Astronomy (AREOLOGY, ATLAS, CHROMOSPHERE, HELIOLOGY (but UK only), TITAN, VENUS), and Biology (BIOSPHERE, BONTOSAUUS, COLUMELLA, DINOSAUR, LARVA, NAUTILUS, OCTOPUS, PANDORA, PHOTOSYNTHESIS, POSTCAVA, PYXIDIUM, XEROPHILE, ZOON), have so many Greek and Latin words. These words become later become part of everyday language. By the way, “OLOGY” is a Greek suffix defined as “The study of”. So BIOLOGY (BIO=Greek for “life”) itself is also a Greek word. See the Periodic Table of the Elements and a list of college course for other examples as well.

(4) Any other discipline in which a culture invents, develops, promotes, or discovers, lends its native words to the new discipline

The followers of this new discipline, including those of another culture or language, must then learn these new terms.

Examples include the following;


(b) The various Martial Arts from Asia (AIKIDO, JUDO, KARATE)

(c) Spanish dances, esp. from Latin America (TANGO, CACHUCHA)

(d) Latin, and Arab words used in Astronomy and Mathematics (ALGEBRA, CALCULUS, EXPONENT, RATIO, ZERO)

(e) The many German words used in Engineering, Technology, Philosophy, and Chess (ASPIRIN, AUTOBAHN, SPRINGER, WELTANSCHAUUNG, ZEITGEIST, ZEPPELIN, ZUGZWANG)


(5) Any word, of which there is no equivalent English word, activity, or concept.

The German words GESTALT, LEBENSRAUM, and ZEITGEIST are examples. From Spanish we have CONQUISTADOR (ES or S), EMBARGO (S), PARADOR (ES or S), PINATA (S), and many others. From Japanese we have AMA (S), ANIME (S), DOJO (S), KARAOKE (S) (meaning “Empty Air”), ORIGAMI, SAMURAI, and SUMO. And from Italian we have BOCCI, OPERA, PIETA, and others.

(6) Any word which uses less verbiage than of the equivalent English phrase.

The following examples illustrate this point.

(a) One could speak of a minor copper unit of currency of Germany, or the simply say PFENNIG. This reduction of words and syllables could be applied to all foreign units of currency such as DINAR (S), DOUBLOON (S), FRANC (S), LIRA (S), KOPECK (S), PENGO (S), RUBEL, SHEKEL (S), SOU, THALER (S), YEN (S), ZOLTY (S or ZOLTIES), and ZUZ (but this last word is not acceptable in WWF).

(b) Other units of measurements are also on the list of acceptable foreign words. We have EON (n. A Greek unit of time), LI (n. A Chinese unit of distance), LIBRA (n. A Roman unit of weight), POOD (n. A Russian unit of weight), SEXTARII (n. A Roman unit of measurement for both liquid and dry volumes), and TEMPO (n. An Italian unit of time).

(c) Many food items can be considered part of this list of acceptable foreign words. We have AMBROSIA (which is also now an English word meaning a type of fruit salad, but the Greeks invented this word first), BRATWURST, CAPPELLETTI, CASSATA, ENCHILADA (S), ESCARGOT (S), GELATO (S), KREPLACH, MACARONI (S), PICCATA, PRETZEL (S), SALSA (which is also a dance), SAUERKRAUT (S), SAIMIN, SCAMPI, SUSHI, TEMPURA, TERIYAKI (S), TOFU, TORTILLA (S), TOSTATADO (S). All which serve as a shortcut to their actual definitions, rather than relying on a list of ingredients or recipes!

(7) Interesting enough, and perhaps obvious once you think about it, some English words eventually become loan words in other languages.

Common words such as JAZZ, RADIO, and TAXI are of English origin and yet found in other languages, with the same definition, spelling, and occasionally same pronunciation. It is a given that we accept these “foreign” words, as we already accepted them. See also (1) above.

I know I have missed some reasons or explanations, and the hows and whys some foreign words become part of the English lexicon, or at least part of Scrabble and WWF.

If you know of any, please post here!



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