A 12-letter word for puzzly frustration…

Today, we’re tackling one of the most controversial aspects of the crossword world, my friends.

Oh yes, let’s talk about crosswordese.

For the uninitiated, crosswordese consists of words that appear frequently in puzzles, but not nearly as often in conversation or common use. (My favorite variation on that definition: “words that crop up a lot but are otherwise pretty useless.”)

For me, one of the worst offenders is ELHI, the abbreviated adjective covering school K through 12. I have never encountered this word in the wild, and in fact, I only became aware of it after I started working with puzzles professionally.

Many of the dedicated puzzlesmiths I know try their hardest to avoid crosswordese at all costs, but unfortunately, so long as American-style crosswords dominate the landscape, crosswordese will be with us in some form or another.

But it did make me wonder: what are the most egregious, the most annoying, the truly infamous examples of crosswordese among my fellow puzzlers?

And when I reached out to some of my friends in the puzzle community, they enthusiastically responded.

New York Times Crossword contributor Ian Livengood (check out our 5 Questions Interview with him!) immediately fired back a litany of crosswordese he’d love to see stricken from puzzle grids, including ALAI (as in Jai alai), ULEE, YSER, ESME, ESNE, ERATO, ETO, SST, ASE, ISERE, and AARE.

The folks at Penny Press — whom you might remember from my previous posts about terrific puzzle-cluing — provided NUMEROUS examples of their least favorite bites of crosswordese.

ALAI made another appearance on Executive Editor Amy Roth’s list, among such suggestions as EKE, ETUI, and ELA, wherein she posed the pointed question “Who IS Guido, anyway?”

ETUI popped up on variety editor Keith Yarbrough’s list of objectionable entries, alongside ANOA, ANA, OLIO, and KEA.

Crossword guru Eileen Saunders offered INEE (an arrow poison), NENE (the infamous Maui goose), ATLI, SELD (as in “Not oft”, ick), and perhaps my least favorite crossword entry of all time, IRED.

Variety editor Cathy Quinn had one particular example in mind when she replied: “Anile. It just has no positive connotations at all.” [Random House defines ANILE as “of or like a foolish, doddering old woman.” An adjective sure to get you slapped in certain company.]

For an example of the level of enmity some crosswordese evokes, look no further than variety editor Andrew Haynes’ outstanding reply, which I proudly present in full:


I despise that entry. I know that it has appeared in a poem or two, but be for real…

The door was ope
I saw the pope
He had some soap
It was on a rope

Pure drivel.

And for a marvelous glimpse into the exasperation crosswordese can elicit, I leave you with variety editor Paula Curry’s lyrical response, which makes for a wonderful mini-puzzle in itself:

What duel tool is full of E’s?
What Melville tale is in the South Seas?
What ubiquitous word is a building wing,
Or that wide-spouted pitcher thing?
Whenever I see such crosswordese…
I just get ired!

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! Don’t forget about our PuzzleNation Community Contest, running all this week! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

21 thoughts on “A 12-letter word for puzzly frustration…

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