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22 Two-Letter Words to Boost Your Scrabble Score

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In Scrabble, two-letter words are often used only as a last resort. In a race to use up your final few tiles at the end of the game, low-scoring pairs like AD, AS, AN, and AT can suddenly become unexpectedly useful. But among competitive Scrabble players, two-letter words are a crafty means of boosting your score: Instead of linking one word perpendicularly to another, try playing one word directly on top of, alongside, or overlapping another on the board to form a chain of two-letter words between the two. So imagine, for instance, that your opponent has just played the word EARTH. If you play the word DREAM directly beneath it, one letter below the other, then you’ll not only pick up points for using your D, R, E, A, and M, but you’ll also score for the words ED, AR, RE, TA, and HM that are formed between the two.

More than 100 two-letter words are acceptable in Scrabble; 22 of the most unfamiliar and most bizarre of which are listed here.

Note: In North America, all the words that are officially acceptable in a game of Scrabble are listed on the TWL or Official Tournament Word List. In the rest of the English-speaking world—including the UK and Australia—Scrabble players use the so-called SOWPODS list, which combines Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary and the Official Scrabble Words list produced by The Chambers Dictionary. All of the words listed here are included on both lists, and so are officially playable in any English language game.

1. AA

You’ll only score two points for the name of this rough and rubbly basaltic lava, but it’ll be a useful two points if you’re sitting with a rack full of vowels. You can also play AI, the name of a species of three-toed sloth, and AE, a Scots variation of "one."

2. AG

An abbreviation of agriculture, used in phrases like "ag college" and "ag school."

3. AL

Another name for the Indian mulberry tree, Morinda citrifolia.

4. AR

You can play the names of all of the letters of the alphabet in Scrabble, including AR, ES, and TEE.

5. BA

BA is an old dialect word meaning "to kiss," but among Egyptologists it’s also the name given to a person’s immortal soul.

6. BO

American slang for a boy or best friend, and an exclamation used to frighten or surprise someone.

7. DE

You can use DE as a synonym of "from" or "of."

8. EL

As well as being the name of the letter L (you can play EM and EN as well), an EL is an elevated railroad.

9. ET

A dialect spelling of "ate."

10. FE

Also spelled PE (which is also acceptable, incidentally), FE is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

11. HM

The expressions HM, HMM, UM, and MM are all acceptable in Scrabble, as are HA, HO, OH, and AH.

12. JO

An old Scots word for a sweetheart.

13. KA

Like the BA, in Egyptian culture, the KA is the spiritual part of a person's soul.

14. LI

A LI is a standard Chinese unit of distance, equal to 500 meters.

15. MU

As the names of letters of the Greek alphabet, you can play both MU and NU in Scrabble.

16. OD

OD is the Odic Force, a hypothetical life force theorized to exist by the 19th-century philosopher Carl Reichenbach.

17. OE

As well as being an old word for an island, the OE is a whirlwind near the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic.

18. OM

Taken from Sanskrit, the syllable OM is used as a mantra in certain forms of meditation.

19. QI

In Chinese philosophy, QI is the vital life force inherent in all things.

20. UT

The first note of the musical scale, now known as DO, was originally called UT. The other note names RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, and TE (or TI) are all also acceptable.

21. XU

As well as the name of the Greek letter XI, you can also play the word XU in Scrabble as the name of a monetary unit worth one-hundredth of a Vietnamese dong.

22. ZA

As a slang abbreviation of "pizza," ZA is worth remembering if you need to ditch a letter Z at the end of the game. If you're playing with the SOWPODS list outside of North America, you can also play the word ZO or DZO, which is the name of a hybrid of a domestic cow and a Himalayan yak.

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8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
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Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

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Why Are Small, Fancy Hats Called Fascinators?
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Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Even if you aren't invested in the lives of British royals, it will be worth tuning in to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding on May 19 for a glimpse at all the elaborate headgear. Fascinators—tiny, elaborate hats that are clipped to the wearer's head—are a popular fashion choice among the women of the royal family today. The name may seem like a perfect fit for the eye-catching accessory, but as Co.Design explains, the hat was called something entirely different until the 1960s.

The term fascinator first surfaced in the fashion world in 17th-century Europe. Back then, it referred to a lacy scarf women wrapped around their heads (or "fastened," hence the name). Rather than attracting stares from across the room, this version of the hat was meant to give women an alluring air of mystery. By the mid 20th-century, a slew of new hat styles hit the scene, leaving both the term fascinator and the garment it described to fall out of fashion.

In the 1960s, a New York milliner named John P. John decided it was time for the fascinator to make a comeback. Instead of thinking about the headpiece in its original sense, however, he used the name to rebrand the petite cocktail hats that were known at the time as clip-hats or half-hats. The sexy new name helped the already-popular design become even trendier.

Fascinators aren't that common in the U.S., but they're a staple of high-profile royal events in the UK. Princess Beatrice realized the accessory's full potential when she debuted her now-iconic fascinator at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. (She eventually auctioned it off on eBay for charity, where it sold for a cool $130,000.) As a result, her head will be the one to watch when she arrives at her cousin Harry's wedding this Saturday.

[h/t Co.Design]

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