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How to Use Word Lists

2010 March 12
by admin

There are 178,691 words in the OWL2-LWL.  If you elim­i­nate words with 9 or more let­ters, the count is reduced to 112,817 (a num­ber that is only slightly less intim­i­dat­ing).  If you assume that deriv­a­tives (plu­rals, ed-ing-s, ier-iest, etc.) expand the lex­i­con by a fac­tor of 3 and that an aver­age indi­vid­ual may know (and be able to con­fi­dently play 1/3) of these words, that still leaves approx­i­mately 27,000 words to learn.

Three pieces of advice:

1) Be smart about it.  Some words are more valu­able than oth­ers, so learn the high-payoff words first, then work your way to down to less valu­able vocab­u­larly.  See the Word Study page for a sug­gested study pro­gram and word lists.

2) Familiarize, then ana­gram. Familiarize your­self with new vocab­u­lary using words lists (see the Word Study page or the Interesting List page), then prac­tice ana­gram­ming new words using a pro­gram like Zyzzyva or flashcards.

3) Download Zyzzyva (http://​zyzzyva​.net) and learn how to use it.  Zyzzyva is an excep­tional pro­gram that low­ers the over­head of sys­tem­atic study con­sid­er­ably.  It also has flash­card­ing and ana­gram­ing features. 

The study pro­gram on the Word Study page con­tains links to numer­ous word lists.  These word lists are all for­mat­ted the same way and include word def­i­n­i­tions in addi­tion to other infor­ma­tion. Although a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age (if not a major­ity) of com­pet­i­tive Scrabble play­ers don’t con­cern them­selves with the def­i­n­i­tions of the words they play, for some play­ers def­i­n­i­tions serve as use­ful mnemon­ics (and make the learn­ing process more enjoy­able and/or more legitimate).

Aa dash (-) in front of a word indi­cates an inner hook (i.e. the first let­ter can be removed and the remain­ing let­ters form a word).  Similarly, a dash (-) at the back of a word indi­cates a back hook.  The let­ters that fol­low­ing a def­i­n­i­tion are outer hooks – the let­ters can be added to the front and/or back of the word to form another word:

   BALD– lack­ing hair [adj BALDER, BALDEST]
   to become bald (lack­ing hair) [v –ED, –ING, –S]  sy
–BARE– naked (being with­out cloth­ing or cov­er­ing) [adj BARER, BAREST]
   to expose (to lay open to view) [v BARED, BARING, BARES]  drs

In the exam­ple above, BAL is an accept­able word, as is BAR and ARE (all inner hooks).  BALDS, BALDY, BARED, BARER, and BARES are all words as well (outer hooks).

All the word lists on the Word Study page have the fol­low­ing columns:

  • NUM - Word Number (this is impor­tant so that blog posts about dif­fer­ent word lists can ref­er­ence word numbers)
  • WORD - The dashes that occa­sion­ally appear either in front or behind words indi­cate inner hook (i.e. if there is a dash in front the word, the first let­ter can be removed to form an accept­able word; If there is a dash behind the word, the last let­ter can be removed to form an accept­able word).
  • DEFINITION -  Definitions were incor­po­rated into the lists using Zyzzyva. Definitions include the part of speech, deriv­a­tives and front and back hooks (e.g. the word ACT lists “fpt/as” as font/back hooks, indi­cat­ing that FACT, PACT, TACT, ACTA and ACTS are all accept­able words).
  • NOTES — This col­umn is designed for “inter­ac­tion” with the list (i.e. com­ments, asso­ci­a­tions with other words, mnemonic devices, etc.).
  • OTHER — A few lists con­tain other columns (which should be self-explanatory).  For exam­ple, the TWOS Left (93) file con­tains a PL col­umn that indi­cates whether or not the word takes an S (because learn­ing which two-letter words takes an S is par­tic­u­larly impor­tant).  PL stands for “plural,” even though adding an S to a two-letter words doesn’t always cre­ate a plural, e.g. AS(S).

As noted above, learn­ing words should be a two-step process.  First, famil­iar­ize your­self with the words you are try­ing to learn (using word lists and other aids). The next step is to prac­tice ana­gram­ming words (i.e. pick­ing them out of ran­dom let­ter strings).  Both steps are impor­tant.  Studying lists of words and then try­ing to go straight from list study to game play is dif­fi­cult because read­ing words on a list is not the same thing as pick­ing the words from ran­dom strings of let­ters on your rack.  On the other hand, ana­gram prac­tice is use­less if you don’t know the words you’re attempt­ing to ana­gram.  The fist step, there­fore, is to study word lists until you are famil­iar enough with the words to be able to rec­og­nize them in a string of let­ters.  Once you’ve got­ten to that point, then you need to take the next step and prac­tice iden­ti­fy­ing or ana­gram­ming using flash­cards or dif­fer­ent com­puter pro­grams and/or websites. 

Learning words is about mak­ing con­nec­tions – and con­nec­tions can be made in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways. Think of the process of mem­o­riza­tion as a process of link­ing a new node into an exist­ing net­work – the more con­nec­tions you can make, the more likely it is you’ll be able to pick it out of a rack when you need it.

Here are a few strategies:

1) Hook Chains — String words together by their hooks to cre­ate hook chains.  For exam­ple, if you know the word EON, you can eas­ily remem­ber that you can add an A to the front to form AEON (an alter­nate spelling).  A P can be added to the front of AEON to form PAEON.  Remember the hook string EON-AEON-PAEON is often eas­ier that remem­ber indi­vid­ual words out of context.

2) Variant Spelling Clusters — Some words can be spelled in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways.  Alternate spelling of words (together with their deriv­a­tives) can often lead to a group or clus­ter of 20+ words.  JINN, for exam­ple, can be spelled JIN, JINNEE, JINNI, DJIN, DJINN, DJINNI, DJINNY, GENIE, etc.  MEOW is another example.

3) Pattern Lists - Words can be groups by mor­phol­ogy.  For exam­ple, a list might be com­piled of all –ING words that take an S, or all the UM-to-A words (like AQUARIUM-AQUARIA), etc.

4) “Defalts” — Defalts (derived from “alt,” short for alter­na­tive, and “def,” short for def­i­n­i­tion) are a cre­ation of Diane Firstman.  They are fic­ti­tious (and humor­ous) def­i­n­i­tions of words designed to aid in recall (e.g. SCAMMONY, defined as “money extracted from for­mer spouse through deceit”).Some of these def­i­n­i­tions have appeared in The New SCRABBLE News and else­where. Here is a link to her store­front: http://​stores​.lulu​.com/​d​i​a​n​a​g​ram.

5) Theme Lists — Words can be grouped by dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­ics, not just mor­phol­ogy.  For exam­ple, a list could be com­piled of all the “name” words that are accept­able Scrabble plays (BRENT, LAURA, RUTH, etc.).  There are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of these kinds of lists (some more use­ful than oth­ers), almost all of which can be down­loaded for free.  Scrabble club web­sites are a great place to look for these kinds of lists.

Once you feel like you’re famil­iar with a par­tic­u­lar list, it’s time to move to the next level and start prac­tic­ing your ana­gram­ing skills.  More on that in another post.

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