The Fun Side of Crosswordese

Crossword.

Anyone who solves crosswords is familiar with some aspect of crosswordese, even if they don’t know it by that name. 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 is “words that crop up a lot in grids but are otherwise pretty useless.”

Part of becoming a better solver is building a personal lexicon of crosswordese and common crossword words so you’re not getting tripped up by the same obscurities, peculiarities, and cruciverbalist celebrities that so often occupy those black-and-white grids we enjoy.

Some of these words seem destined to remain obscure. ETUI will most likely never become commonplace. Most people don’t fence, and couldn’t tell an EPEE from a foil or a saber.

Oona-Chaplin

[Image courtesy of Celebs.Infoseemedia.com.]

Others are cyclical. OONA was Chaplin’s wife, until her granddaughter of the same name become a featured player in the first few seasons of Game of Thrones. Similarly, both ELSAS Lancaster and the movie feline have Frozen to thank for that name gaining new life in puzzles these days.

(Here’s hoping there’s a crop of Eastern-European actresses that will storm TV and film soon and breathe new life into clues for ONA, UNA, UTA, and OSA.)

But, for the most part, crosswordese evokes negative feelings. It’s easy to come up with a list of the words that irk us — the ones we’ve never encountered in the real world, or the ones that we simply cannot remember, even after filling them into a dozen grids or more.

But today I’d like to focus on the ones I do enjoy, the strange words I’ve learned through crossword solving and construction that have broadened my vocabulary and sent my mind down unexpected tangents and pathways I would’ve never otherwise wandered through.

edsel

[Image courtesy of Driving.ca.]

EDSEL

It’s amazing how a convenient letter pattern can keep an infamous failure in the minds of solvers decades and decades later. It was only manufactured for two years, and that was SIXTY years ago. And yet, whenever I see “Ford flop” or something similar as a clue, I always smile. It’s universal at this point.

NE’ER

There’s a lot of poetic license — see what I did there? — taken with poetry terms in crosswords, and most of them are well-and-truly overused. But for some reason, NEER ne’er bothers me. In fact, I enjoy seeing it. It probably has to do with “ne’er-do-well,” which is an incredibly fun term to throw around. It’s right up there with “deipnosophist” and “raconteur” as far as descriptive terms that need to make a comeback.

iago

[Image courtesy of Digital Spy.]

IAGO

He was first clued as a master manipulator from the works of Shakespeare, then as a conniving Disney sidekick who slowly turns toward the light over the course of the franchise. In either case, he’s a fascinating character whose handy combination of vowels ensures he’ll be a part of crosswords for years to come.

obiwanobi

[Images courtesy of StarWars.com and Polina Couture.]

OBI

As someone who is both a Star Wars fan and deeply interested in Japanese culture, I always enjoy when OBI makes an appearance in a grid. (More for the former reasons than the latter, if I’m being honest.)

In fact, this blog entry inspired me to search XWordInfo to see when OBI started being clued as part of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s name (twice, which is weird yet lyrical) and not just as a Japanese sash.

Although the character debuted in the first Star Wars film in 1977, his name wasn’t used in The New York Times crossword to clue OBI until 1990!

These are just the first common crossword entries that came to mind. There are a few others, not to mention all of the neat animals — mostly bird-related or African in origin — that crop up in crosswords. KEA and ROC, IBEX and ELAND, OKAPI and RATEL, just to name a few.

But now I turn the subject over to you, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers. What are your favorite common crossword words or bits of crosswordese that appear in grids but don’t irk you? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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