7. Lists and Lexicons
“A particular nuisance was the angry or disdainful looking up of dubious words in a number of lexicons...”
Vladimir Nabokov - Ada
To the Scrabble player dictionary knowledge is as basic to expert play as the memorising of openings is to a chess grandmaster or putting practice to the golf pro. The Scrabble player's tactical skills are all dependent on word power. Of course, there are players with a dictionary-like intelligence but little tactical skill, and others who make brilliant use of their natural vocabulary. In the long run, though, the player who knows that you can stick a J in front of AUNTIES, that DENTURES contains three anagrams and that SHTCHIS isn't a bad rack but an allowable seven-letter word, must have an advantage.
Tackling the Twos
It should take you about a week to memorize the two-letter words, their meanings and extensions. The two’s are to Scrabble players what one-foot putts are to golfers - they should never be missed. Make a copy of the Two's list in our List Library and glance at it while watching TV. What’s an AA? A three-toed sloth? No - rough cindery lava. It’s a noun so it takes an-S.
Many of the 121 two letter words will be familiar to you from everyday English.
Threading your way through the Threes
The next step is to learn the twos-to-make-threes list - those twos which take front and back hooks. When revising them write down two-letter combinations (AD, OO, EL) and test your knowledge of letters before and after (BAD, BOO, BEL etc; ADD, OOF, ELD etc). Gradually you develop a short list of twos and threes that give you trouble (e.g. CEP, KEB, TYG). As with a language, fluency comes with actually using the memorised words. Knowledge of the twos and threes will come naturally in your first year of club and competition play.
Making Forays on the Fours and Fives
One strategy for learning the fours is to list them in four groups –
The initial listing contains no words that are in your active vocabulary (including their extensions). As with the twos and threes, a short list is developed after each revision.
A similar system also applies to the five-letter words. A knowledge of the the fives decides the majority of games in tournament play so they must not be neglected. I generally treat all six-letter words taking an -S as bonus words leaving me with a fairly small group of words which are ‘true sixes’ . With the sevens eights and nines we move into bonus territory where a more sophisticated method of memorization is needed.
Bob Jackman’s excellent book on four-letter words in Scrabble is a useful aid. He also has a handy tome on the "fabulous fives" as well.
Bonus words - Patterns and Paradigms
There are various methods of developing systems of association – each player
has to decide which suits him or her.
Anagrams – make lists of words which contain one or more anagrams placing the more common word first as a clue to the more obscure ones e.g. CABARET ABREACT BEARCAT. Some players arrange their bonus lists in alphabetic order e.g. AABCERT and practice anagramming their target words.
Combos – combinations of six or seven letters which yield a bonus by adding a letter (e.g. SATIRE + A = ATRESIA, ASTERIA, ARISTAE, CERTAIN + A = CARINATE ). We have previously included the "top ten" combos for seven and eight-letter words in our "Word Power" section. They are a good starting point. Revision is generally done by self-testing: TINEAS plus Z ? ZANIEST and ZEATINS. INTAKES plus B? BEATNIKS and SNAKEBIT. It is also wise to list (and remember) the letters which don't combine to form a bonus - "Non-Gos" (e.g. SATIRE does not form a word with J, Q, U, Y or Z ).
Anamonics - mnemonic phrases are used to group the add-on letters for combos. For example, if I want to remember all the letters with which the stem INMATE combines I think of the phrase INMATE - RELAXING BY HIS CELL DOOR. That tells me that INMATE plus R forms a legitimate word so my memory is triggered to find MINARET and RAIMENT, then INMATE plus E (MATINEE, ETAMINE) etc. Then If I have INMATE plus Z on my rack I recall the anamonic and save myself time by knowing I have no bonus word there. The Canadian expert John Chew has collected thousands of such anamonics into a "Canonical List" Obviously the more humorous or pertinent the trigger phrase the easier it is to recall. Some other examples are:
ANGLER - WIFE JUST CLIPPED MY BIG GUPPY
Scrabble players track down words like others collect stamps or rare coins. Many players prepare lists which contain a common feature or theme - all the words imported from Japanese, names of coins, animals etc. Preparing idiosyncratic lists can be useful. Here are some examples:
How much time should you spend learning words?
An average of twenty minutes per day over one year is enough to learn the strategic lists necessary to be competitive in club and tournament play. Just playing regularly will maintain your keenness for studying lists as you start to see the rewards of your work by actually playing the words you have learnt. Experts preparing for the World Championships can often spend up to 12 hours a day memorising and reviewing their lists but that’s not everybody’s cup of tea.
What software programs are available as learning aids?
Carol Ravi’s LeXpert and Robert Parker’s Video Flashcards are the most useful software packages for developing your own lists. They also run "slide shows" displaying anagrams and hooks of words and allow a variety of self-testing options.
For lots of handy lists, check our section on Word Lists