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Words With Meanings

March 18, 2012

Broadway lyricist Alan Lerner’s father was unable to speak later in life.  During a family weekend together, Mr. Lerner the elder wrote this note to his already-successful son:

Alan, I have counted the words you have used this weekend and you have an active vocabulary of 297 words.  I don’t see how you can make a career as a writer with an active vocabulary of 297 words.  However, I believe you have talent and if you would like to return to school and study, I would be more than happy to subsidize you.

The Street Where I Live, Alan Jay Lerner, WW Norton & Company, 1978

It was brought to my attention recently that some, perhaps many, Words with Friends and Scrabble players are unaware of the meanings of small, helpful words made with uncommon letters.  Even Scrabblefinder.com states in blissful ignorance, “No definition found – It’s still good as a Scrabble word though!”

I, like the elder Mr. Lerner, am aghast.  Playing Scrabble at my house was a vocabulary builder above all other considerations.  So much so, we almost never kept score.

If the words we use in games are not to join our active vocabulary, or at least our general knowledge base, then what is the point of playing these games?  Are we simply memorizing letter sequences in order to garner the highest point total?  Underneath the online dictionary entries for small words using k, q and z, one inevitably finds a comment that simply says “… words with friends.”  One can imagine the wide, glazed-over eyes of the automaton who’s obsession with word games has corrupted his or her ability to speak in complete sentences.

In a small effort to reverse this popular, vapid tide, here are some of those useful Scrabble words—along with their definitions.

ae

Ae rhymes with “a.”  It is a chiefly Scottish word for “one,” but used in its adjective form only.  “One moment please” becomes “Ae moment please.”

dex

Dex is short for the sulfate of dextro-amphetamine or dexamphetamine.  Dictionaries helpfully explain that this is the dextrorotatory sulfate of amphetamine.

Following the breadcrumbs further, dextrorotatory means that the plane of polarization of light is rotated toward the right. (Don’t you love definitions like those?)  Dex is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.  (“Please take your dex and pay attention.”—C.M. Stevenson)

Dex is not listed in the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (OED).*

jeux

Jeux is French for “games.” I suppose when one is playing word games, jeux is à propos.

kex

A kex is a dried stem (usually hollow) of certain large herbaceous plants such as Cow Parsnip, Wild Chervil and Marsh Angelica.  (“Polishing off another apple, Eve wondered how and why Adam had woven kex into a brassiere of for her.”—C.M. Stevenson)

lo

You probably know that lo is an interjection used to call attention or to express wonder or surprise.  One uses it as “Look! See! or Behold!”  (“And lo! They came to discover that short words formed with uncommon letters do, indeed, have meaning.” – C.M. Stevenson)  One can also use it like “oh.”

What you may not know is that lo was shortened from lōke, a middle English imperative form of look.

od, odyl, and odyle

Od, odyl, and odyle are variations of the name for a hypothetical force suggested by the Baron von Reichenbach (1788 – 1869) to pervade all nature and to manifest itself in magnetism, mesmerism, chemical action, etc.

‘Od has also been used in place of God, when one is attempting to skirt the strict interpretation of the second commandment.  It would be used as a mild oath, similarly to “gad”.

om

Om actually means just what you think.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, an utterance of assent used in prayer and meditation.  But it’s Sanskrit, and that’s just so cool.  (So is loot, but I don’t get nearly as excited about that.)

op

Op is a short form of operation, optime, opus (a work of music, not the cartoon character) and optical.

oxo

Oxo, as far as I can discover, is the proprietary name of an extract of beef used as the basis of drinks (… uh … yuck) or soups.  I don’t know if this is equivalent to beef stock or not.  Regardless, it seems to me a proprietary name would be in violation of basic Scrabble rules.

qi

Qi is an equivalent for chi.  In Eastern systems of medical treatment, exercise, self-defense and philosophy, it is the vital energy believed to animate the body internally.

suq

Suq rhymes with “duke” and is a variant spelling of “souk” which is a marketplace in north Africa or a stall in such a marketplace.

Suq picture by Kazbar212

xi

Xi is the spelled name for the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet.  It makes the sound “ks,” even though it looks a lot like an epsilon.

yod

Yod—while possibly the name of an uncle of Superman back on Krypton—is rather the tenth letter of the hebrew alphabet.

In astrology, yod means “finger of God” which leads to a bevy of uncommonly-lettered astrological terms that are outside the scope of this post.

zax

Zax is a variant spelling for a sax, a tool similar to a hatchet, used for cutting and dressing roofing slates.  (I love that use of the word dressing.)  A zax is used by slaters, which gives me a reason to list Christian Slater as a tag on this post.

*I sifted through the unabridged OED at the Indianapolis Central Library for the first time while researching for this topic.  I’m counting it as a big step in crossing my Rubicon.

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3 comments

  1. I am humbled and edified, good sir! ;O)


  2. Oh, don’t be silly. I had to look them all up, too. Well, maybe not “lo.”


  3. My husband will be so mad when I commit these to memory. (Insert evil laugh here.)
    Thanks, Craig.



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