NYT needs to expand its English vocabulary a bit

At the beginning of the Wordle craze I found it mildly irritating to see social media references to what people were encountering on the game on a given day. I was all like, “Keep your diversions to yourselves, people!”

That was before I tried the game myself, and became addicted. I’m now on a 94-day streak, but I must confess to having cheated one day back in the low 60s.

I didn’t mean to cheat — or at least, not to the extent that I did. I wasn’t actually looking for the answer. I was going to spend a turn on a throwaway word, just to try out certain letters that might be helpful in getting me toward the answer. But I couldn’t think of one. So I searched for five-letter words with this or that letter in a certain position, and it gave me a list, and my eye scanned the list, and landed on a word that was obviously the answer. And it was.

So really, I’m only on about a 30-day streak. The app just doesn’t know it.

Now I have confessed to the world, and you need not assign me any penance; I assure you I have beaten myself up thoroughly over it.

But I am here today not to speak of my own sins, but to condemn The New York Times, which owns and operates Wordle, for its trespasses. Not particularly grievous sins, but sins nonetheless.

Actually, this list I’m about to share is only partly from Wordle. I’ve also gotten hooked on the NYT’s Spelling Bee, an even greater time waster. And since you end up entering far more words playing that game, most of the words on this list are now from that.

The problem is, I keep entering perfectly good, long-established English words, and they get rejected as “Not in word list.”

Well, I don’t know where they’re getting their “word list,” but the source is obviously not the OED or any other major English dictionary. Here are words that one of these games has recently rejected:


  • luff — Oh, don’t ask me what it precisely means, but it’s something sailors used to do with sails. As in, “Luff and touch her!” It also has a noun form.
  • bole — A tree trunk.
  • dibble — Have you never planted a garden?
  • midden — This is a refuse heap.
  • mort — A note played on a hunting horn when a deer is killed.
  • potto — It’s a primate, and to my knowledge, it’s the only word for this species in the English language. OK, I looked it up, and some call it a “softly-softly.” I’m not making this up.
  • nappy — Means a number of things, from being fuzzy to something babies wear.
  • cavitate — Obviously, no one at the NYT has ever read The Hunt for Red October. Probably don’t know what a Crazy Ivan is, either.
  • motte — It’s the hilly part of a fortress, as in “motte and bailey.”
  • clew — To repeat myself: Don’t ask me what it precisely means, but it’s something sailors used to do with sails. As in, “Clew up, mate!” (I’m not trying to be creative here. I’m trying to sound like a foremast jack, not a poet.) It also has a noun form.
  • whinge — Surely you’ve seen this. It’s another form of the word “whine.”
  • coney — Don’t the NYT folk have any alternative ways of saying “bunny?”
  • conn — Again, go read The Hunt for Red October. Or just about any books that involve maneuvering ships on the sea.
  • trull — Don’t call a lady this, because it has a rather specific meaning, and not many would consider it a compliment.
  • wold — I’ll just quote the dictionary: “a usually upland area of open country.”
  • limey — Mind you, this one isn’t a British term. It’s a term Americans use to describe Brits.
  • telly — OK, definitely from across the pond. But we all understand it, don’t we? Just today, Spelling Bee refused it.

Note that each is linked to its dictionary definition.

OK, admittedly a lot of these words are British, and quite a few are nautical. But they are long-established words with definite meanings in English, and should never be rejected. They should be perfectly legitimate by the rules of the games. They’re not proper nouns or anything.

Yeah, I think there’s some sort of mechanism for appealing, or at least reporting, such errata (oh, and notice I haven’t included any words such as “errata,” accepting them as still pretty firmly identified as Latin — my list is purely English). But I couldn’t find it this morning, and I thought I’d just go ahead and complain here.

I left one word off my list. I had originally saved “droog,” but decided that being a Nadsat word disqualified it. But mind you, Nadsat was invented by an English writer. And I, for one, prefer it to Tolkien’s Elvish…

6 thoughts on “NYT needs to expand its English vocabulary a bit

  1. Barry

    I will say with all that is going on now in the world and nation, Wordle is probably near the bottom on the list of things I thought you’d write about on Tuesday.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      That’s because you don’t understand the dynamics of blogging, which go like this:

      • It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. I feel the pressure to remedy that.
      • Any of the many complex things going on in the world would take me an hour or so to write about.
      • I don’t have an hour or so, or anything like it. I’ve got to get a bunch of work done today, and pack and get ready to leave on another trip tomorrow.
      • So I put up something that would just take a few minutes. Even that put a cramp in my timetable.
      • I had this list of words that Wordle and Spelling Bee had rejected on my phone, and had been meaning to complain about it for some time.
      • If possible, I want to put up an Open Thread today. But that seems very doubtful at this point. We’ll see. I got up at 7 this morning with lots to do, and got quite a bit done, but now it’s noon and I haven’t even started on paying work. I must do that now.
      • Then, when I actually get some time — and I might, this weekend — I’ll put up that post about Dominica. That will take awhile. And I have another thing just as long and complicated that waits for me to get some time.

      Anyway, that’s the way it goes.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Ironically, I found it easier to blog multiple times every day when I was working long hours running the editorial page at the paper.

        I think that’s because I was sitting at my laptop all day anyway, and constantly dealing with a host of issues, and thinking about them and talking to people about them, and there was only so much room in the dead-tree paper, so I was constantly typing out and posting the stuff that would never make it into print.

        It’s weird, but that’s the way it worked…

      2. Barry

        “That’s because you don’t understand the dynamics of blogging”

        Obviously, I don’t.

  2. Bill

    Only part of NYT worth reading but now try:Queerdle is a word guessing game. Each day there is a new word to guess. You have six chances to get the word right. Words vary in length between 4 and 8 characters and do not contain spaces or punctuation. Occasionally two words may be put together if I feel like it. Queerness cannot be contained! Letters can be repeated.

  3. Mike

    I have had a lot of the same Spelling Bee frustrations that you mention, with a lot of the same words (I love early Tom Clancy, especially Red October and Red Storm Rising).

    Spelling Bee is an area where I see a pretty clear urban bias as well. While I don’t keep a list like yours, there have been many, many times that a word common to my native midwest has not been accepted. And just try to use any word specific to agriculture in Spelling Bee. It’s more likely to accept a foreign word (French & German have cropped up recently; Spanish not so much) or a place-name than a word that is in common use in a fly-over state.

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