What is a Word?

by Sue Gleason

Occasionally someone objects to a word which appears as an answer in one of the puzzles on this website: "It's not a legitimate word. I could not find it in dictionary X or Y. I could not find it in search engine Q or Z."

In this document, I address the subject of what a word is, at least in the context of this website. There is a well-known story of three umpires talking about balls and strikes. The first umpire says "I call 'em as I see 'em." The second says, "I call 'em as they are". On this website, I, like the third umpire, say, "Until I call 'em, they ain't."

I choose to construe the class of acceptable words for use in online puzzles extremely broadly. The internet is my dictionary; the lag in the derivation of language from usage is obsolete.

All of us doing puzzles online have a common vast library readily available. Why cling to an earlier standard?

With regard to the spelling of words which do appear in dictionaries, I follow the standard set by Webster's New International Second Edition or the American Heritage Dictionary. Many of the other constructors use Webster's Third, Random House Unabridged, Longman's, OED2, etc.


A more streamlined approach to spelling might be considered in the future, as illustrated by Wayne Hathaway:
"My spell-checker complained about my original 'acquitted.' When I changed it to 'acquited' it was happy. It seems to feel double letters are passe preferring things like traveling and such."

I consulted Barry Tunick on a related point: how do we describe "HenryV" as as answer in a crostic? Barry agrees it should show (2 wds), "assuming it's written the usual way, Henry V. For most purposes, a word is one or more characters with a blank space on either side". So a Roman numeral or an abbreviation "counts" as a word.


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Page copyright by Sue Gleason August 17, 2004