The Grammarphobia Blog

Scrabbled regs

Q: Why is the word “unhoned” not a word? For example, “unhoned skills”: that which is not yet refined or sharpened. I lost a game of Scrabble over this eight years ago and I am still bitter.

A: Of course “unhoned” is a word. It’s just not a word that’s considered kosher in Scrabble.

The negative prefix “un” can be added to adjectives (“unhappy”), participles acting as adjectives (“unhoned,” “unspoken”), some nouns (“unrest”), and some verbs (“unfasten”) to form new words that are essentially the opposite of the originals.

Much the same is true of other negative prefixes, like “in” (as in “ineligible”), “non” (“noncompliance”), “im” (“immutable”), and others. The resulting words are genuine words.

However, the fact that something is a word in the mind of the average reasonable person doesn’t necessarily make it a word in the competitive Scrabble community. These people have their own, very finely honed ideas about what makes a word.

I posed your question to John D. Williams Jr., executive director of the National Scrabble Association. As far as the use of prefixed (or suffixed) words is concerned, he said:

“There is no hard and fast rule. Get a copy of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (4th ed.) and check out the ‘un’ section. As you’ll see, it varies from word to word. ‘Unhoned’ is definitely a stretch. Also check out the lengthy ‘re’ section. Sadly, ‘rehone’ is not there.”

The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (known to fans as OSPD4) is published by Merriam-Webster, Inc.

My condolences.

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