• Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a type of crumbly basaltic lava found in Hawaii

A tweet from last week that stirred up a bit of interest on HH was this one, listing some surprising two-letter words that are permissible Scrabble plays:

Most of the comments it received fell into one of two categories: namely those that questioned whether or not these can’t were indeed real words, and those that claimed you should only be permitted to play them in a game if you can explain what they mean.

So, yes, these are all entirely genuine Scrabble plays—and for reference, in case you’re ever challenged, this is what they all mean:

  • aa (n.) stuck with a rack full of vowels? Play the name of this crumbly basaltic Hawaiian lava

  • bo (n.; interj.) slang for a best friend, or else an exclamation used to shock someone

  • hm (interj.) an expression of thoughtfulness or hesitation; you can also play hmm

  • jo (n.) old Scots words are a perennial HH favourite—including this one for a sweetheart

  • ka (n.) the spiritual part of a person’s soul in Ancient Egyptian mythology, of course

  • oe (n.) both an old dialect word for an island, and a whirlpool in far North Atlantic waters

  • qi (n.) the name for a vital life force inherent in all things according to Chinese philosophy

  • xu (n.) 1 one-hundredth of a dông, the chief monetary unit of Vietnam, is called a xu

  • za (n.) a shortening of pizza, apparently, because “pizza” is too long a word

Admittedly they’re just the tip of the two-letter Scrabble iceberg. If you are stuck with a rack of vowels, then you can free some space up by also playing ai (a type of three-toed sloth), ae (a Scots word meaning “one”), and oi (both an exclamation used to attract attention, and the name of a New Zealand seabird).

The names of the letters of the alphabet are all permissible too, so you can play the likes of el, em, en, ar, es and ex, as well as the Greek letters mu, nu, and xi.

As well as hm, you can play expressions like oh, hi, ha, ho, la, ta, uh, um and ya, as well as the musical notes re, mi, fa, so, la, te or ti, and ut (the original name for the first note of the scale).

And if you’re looking to ditch an awkward letter, alongside qi, xu and za it’s worth remembering ki (a Polynesian plant), ky (an old dialect word for a cow), and fe (a letter of the Hebrew alphabet).


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