NYT Spelling Bee: an archive of disallowed BrE words

Twitter has been my main internet stomping ground since 2009, but I've been withdrawing my labo(u)r from it since October, when it became much more volatile for some reason

The New York Times Spelling Bee has been my morning-coffee activity for some of those years, and since November 2020 I've been jokingly tweeting the BrE words that it hasn't accepted. These go in a thread of posts that always start: 

Perfectly Common BrE Words the @NYTimesGames Spelling Bee Has Denied Me: An Occasional Series

Twitter has really degraded this week, which is making me feel a bit sad that perhaps that thread will have to die. (I'm also sad that the thread has frayed along the way—it's very difficult to read it all the way to the beginning because it splits here and there.) So as a clearly procrastinatory measure, I'm putting the list of "perfectly common BrE words" here, with a little more explanation than they tended to get on Twitter.

For those who don't know the Bee: it's an anagram game where one must use the middle letter. The twist—and what makes it a superior anagram game—is that you can use any of the letters as many times as you like. Here's what it looked like on the 5th of April when I hadn't yet got to Genius level.  (My goal every day is 'make it to Genius before breakfast'. It's nice to be called 'Genius' before you've started work.) 


The game, of course, has its own word list, which is suitably American for its New York Times home. Still, some not-usually-AmE words are playable, like FLATMATELORRY and PRAM. But many words that are part of my everyday vocabulary in England are not playable. And non-AmE spellings are generally not playable. 

There's been a lot of attention to AmE words that (orig. AmE) stump non-American players in Wordle. (Here's Cambridge Dictionary's 2022 Word of the Year post, which covers some—and includes a video in which I talk about why HOMER was a great choice for Word of the Year.) Not as much attention has been paid to the Spelling Bee, which you need to subscribe to. I'm sure British players have their own (mental) lists of American words they've had to learn in order to get "Queen Bee" status (finding all the day's words) in the game. If you're one of them, do use the comments to tell us about those weird words.

So, after all that preamble, here are the "Perfectly Common BrE Words the @NYTimesGames Spelling Bee Has Denied Me" words in alphabetical order, with translations or links to other blog posts. But first, a bit more preamble. The disclaimers! 

  • Words in the puzzle must be at least four letters long, so some of these are suffixed forms for which the three-letter base word was unplayable. If there's an -ED form but not an -ING form (etc.), that'll be because the other one's letters weren't in the puzzle. 
  • Some of these would not have been allowable—regardless of their dialectal provenance—on the basis that they are "naughty" words. I include them anyway. 
  • I have checked questionable cases against the GloWbE corpus to ensure that the word really is more common in BrE than AmE.
  • Some are Irish or Australian by origin, but they are still more common in BrE than in AmE.
  • Sometimes my spelling is a bit liberal here. If I could find one British dictionary that allowed me the word with the given spelling, I included it.  
  • Also the phrase "perfectly common" is not meant to be taken too seriously!
  • These words were not playable at the time when I tried to play them. The word list may have changed and some of them may be playable now. 
  • Red ones are ones that have been unsuccessfully played/tweeted about since I first started this blog list. Green ones have been added to the blog since the original post, but were tweeted-about earlier than that—I just missed them in the tangled Twitter threads when I was writing the blog post. 

ABATTOIR
  AmE slaughterhouse

AGGRO aggression, aggressive behavio[u]r

AITCH  the letter. Less need to spell it as a word in AmE. See this old post.

ANAEMIA / ANAEMIC  AmE anemia/anemic

ANNEXE  minority spelling in BrE; usually, as in AmE, it's annex

APNOEA  AmE apnea

APPAL   AmE appall; old post on double Ls

ARDOUR   old post on -or/-our

ARGYBARGY this is a bit of a joke entry because it's usually spelled/spelt ARGY-BARGY (a loud argument), but the Squeeze album has no hyphen. 

ARMOUR    -or/-our

BIBBED  I don't know why this shows up more in BrE data, but it does, just meaning 'wearing a bib'

BINMAN / BINMEN  AmE garbage man (among other terms); old post on bin

BINT  derogatory term for a woman

BITTY having lots of unconnected parts, often leaving one feeling unsatisfied; for example, this blog post is a bit bitty

BLAG covered in this old post

BLUB / BLUBBING to sob (= general English blubbering)

BOAK retch, vomit, throw up a bit in the mouth. That was gross. Sorry.

BOBBLY having bobbles 

BOBBY  I think this one might be playable now. Informal term for police officer. In AmE, found in bobby pins

BODGE / BODGED make or fix something badly

BOFFIN  see this old post

BOLLOCK / BOLLOCKED  reprimand severely

BOLLOX  This one's more common in Irish English than BrE. To screw something up.

BOKE   see BOAK 

BONCE  the head (informal)

BOYO a boy/man (Welsh informal)

BRILL  short for brilliant, meaning 'excellent'; also a kind of European flatfish

BROLLY  umbrella (informal)

BUNG / BUNGING to put (something) (somewhere) quickly/carelessly. People cooking on television are always bunging things in the oven. 

BUTTY  see this old post

CAFF  a café, but typically used of the kind that is analogous to an AmE diner (that is to say a café is not as fancy in BrE as it would be in AmE)

CAWL  a soupy Welsh dish (recipe); also a kind of basket

CEILIDH  a Scottish social dance (event)

CHANNELLED   post on double Ls

CHAPPIE  a chap (man)

CHAV / CHAVVY  see this old post and/or this one

CHICANE  a road arrangement meant to slow drivers down; see this old post

CHILLI  see this old post

CHIMENEA / CHIMINEA the 'e' spelling is considered etymologically "correct" but the 'i' spelling seems to be more common in UK; I think these kinds of outdoor fireplaces are just more trendy in UK than in US?

CHIPPIE alternative spelling of chippy, informal for a (fish and) chip shop

"cholla" at a UK online supermarket
CHOC chocolate (informal, countable)

CHOLLA  a spelling of challah (the bread) 

CLAG  mud; more common is claggy for 'having a mud-like consistency'

COLOUR    -or/-our

CONNEXION this is a very outdated spelling of connection. Not actually used in UK these days, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to play it?

COOTCH  a hiding place, a shed or similar (from Welsh cwtch)

COUNCILLOR  post on double Ls

CRAIC it's really an Irish one (a 'good time'), but it qualifies here because it's used more in BrE than AmE (and understood pretty universally in UK)

CRIM  criminal

CUTTY  short (in some UK dialects)

DADO  as in dado rail, what's often called a chair rail in AmE (here's a picture)

DEFENCE  AmE defense

DEMOB /DEMOBBED  de-mobilize(d); that is, released from the (BrE) armed forces / (AmE) military

DENE  a valley (esp. a narrow, wooded one) or a low sand dune near the sea (regional)

DIALLING  post on double Ls

DIDDY    small (dialectal); see this old post

DOBBED / DOBBING  actually Australian, dob = to inform on someone; see this old post on the BrE equivalent grass (someone) up

DODDLE  it's a doddle  = (orig. AmE) it's a piece of cake (very easy)

DOOLALLY  out of one's mind

EQUALLED   post on double Ls

FAFF / FAFFING  one of the most useful BrE words. See this old post

FARL  a kind of (AmE) quick bread, usually cut into triangles; can be made of various things, but here's a recipe for a common kind, the potato farl

FILMIC cinematic, relating to film

FITMENT = AmE fixture, i.e. a furnishing that is fit(ted) in place

FLANNELETTE = AmE flannel  old post on flannels

FOETAL AmE (and BrE medical) fetal

FUELLED  post on double Ls

FULFIL   post on double Ls

GADGIE / GADGE guy, man, boy (regional)

GAMMON  this post covers the meat meaning, but lately it's also used as an insult for Brexiteers and their political similars

GAMMY  (of a body part) not working well; e.g., I have a gammy knee

GANNET a type of sea bird, but also BrE slang for a greedy person

GAOL  now less common spelling for jail

GIBBET  gallows; to hang (a person) [not really in current use]

GIGGED / GIGGING  to perform at a gig  [playable as of May 2023]

GILET   covered at this clothing post and also at this pronunciation post

GIPPING form of gip, a synonym of BOAK (see above)

GITE French, but used in English for a type of holiday/vacation cottage

GOBBED / GOBBING  form of gob, which as a noun means 'mouth', but as a verb means 'spit'

GOBBIN waste material from a mine

GOBBY mouthy

GOOLY (more often GOOLIE, GOOLEY) a testicle (informal, see GDoS)

getting gunged/slimed
GUNGE  any unpleasant soft or slimy substance; also used as a verb for having such stuff poured over one's head on a children's show (= AmE slime)

GURN / GURNING  see this old post

HAITCH  = AITCH, but pronounced differently See this old post.

HALLO old-fashioned hello 

HENCH strong, fit (like a weightlifter)

HOLDALL  a duffel bag or similar heavy-duty bag; often spelled with a hyphen (hold-all), but at least some places don't. 

HOOPOE a kind of bird (mostly African), which sometimes makes it to England

HOGMANAY it is a proper noun, but I wanted to include it anyway

HOICK / HOIK  to lift/pull abruptly

HOTCHPOTCH  AmE hodgepodge

INNIT invariant tag question: isn't it

INVIGILATING AmE proctor; old post

 JAMMY  lucky; old post 

KIPPING  form of kip, to take a nap

LAIRY  (esp. of a person) unpleasantly loud, garish 

LAMPED  form of lamp, to hit a person very hard

LAYBY  AmE turnout (and other synonyms/regional terms); a place where a car can move out of the flow of traffic (usually has a hyphen lay-by, but I found one dictionary that doesn't require it)

LIDO an outdoor public swimming pool; there's some debate about how to pronounce it 

LILO  a blow-up mattress for floating on in a pool

LINO  short for linoleum

LOLLY  lollipop or (AmE) popsicle (especially in ice lolly)

LOVAGE  a(n) herb that Americans don't see very often  [has been added! Played successfully on 3 May 2023]

LUPIN  AmE lupine, a flower

LURGI / LURGY  see this old post

MEDIAEVAL  the less common spelling of medieval

MILLIARD  (no longer really used) a thousand million, i.e. a billion 

MILORD address term for a nobleman

MINGE  a woman's pubic hair/area (not flattering) 

MINGING  foul, bad smelling, ugly (rhymes with singing!)

MODELLED  post on double Ls

MOGGY  a cat (informal)

MOOB  man boob

MOULT    AmE molt (related to  -or/-our)

MOZZIE  mosquito

MUPPET in its lower-case BrE sense: 'idiot; incompetent person'

NAFF  this has come up in posts about 'untranslatables' and about a study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

NAPPY AmE diaper

NAVVY  a manual labo(u)rer (old-fashioned)

NEEP  Scottish English for what the English call a swede and what Americans call a rutabaga (old post on the latter two)

NELLY in the BrE phrase not on your nelly (= AmE not on your life)

NOBBLE  to unfairly influence an outcome; steal 

NOBBLY  alternative spelling of knobbly (which is more common in both AmE & BrE)

NONCY  adjective related to nonce (sex offender, p[a]edophile) 

NOWT  nothing (dialectal)

ODOUR    -or/-our

OFFENCE  AmE offense

OFFIE  short for BrE off-licence; AmE liquor store  (discussed a little in this old post

ORACY  the speaking version of literacy; in US education, it's called orality

PACY  having a good or exciting pace (e.g. a pacy whodunnit)

PAEDO  short for pa(e)dophile

PANTO see this post

PAPPED / PAPPING  from pap, to take paparazzi pictures

PARLOUR    -or/-our

PARP  a honking noise

PEDALLED   post on double Ls

PELMET  another one from the study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

PENG  slang for 'excellent' 

PIEMAN / PIEMEN this one is usually two words (pie man), but I was able to find a dictionary that allowed it as a single word, so I added it to the list

PIPPED / PIPPING  pip = to defeat by a small amount; often heard in to be pipped at the post 

PITTA another spelling for pita, more in line with the BrE pronunciation of the word

PLAICE another one from the study that identified common BrE words Americans don't know

PLUMMY  see this post

PODGY  chubby

POMMY another Australian one, but English people know it because it's an insult directed at them, often in the phrase pommy bastard

PONCE / PONCY  see this post

PONGING horrible-smelling

POOED / POOING  see this post for the poo versus poop story

POOTLE to travel along at a leisurely speed

POPPADOM / POPPADUM anything to do with Indian food is going to be found more in UK than US

PORRIDGY  like porridge, which in AmE is oatmeal

PUFFA full form: puffa jacket; a kind of quilted jacket; it is a trademark, but used broadly; I did find it in one dictionary with a lower-case p

PUNNET  see this old post

RAILCARD  you buy one and it gives you discounts on train tickets

RANCOUR    -or/-our

RUMOUR     -or/-our

TANNOY  AmE loudspeaker, public address system  (originally a trademark, but now used generically)

TELLY  (orig.) AmE tv

THALI  another Indian menu word 

THICKO  stupid person

TIDDY  small (dialectal) 

TIFFIN  usually referring to chocolate tiffin (recipe)

TINNING  AmE canning

TITCH  a small person 

TOFF  an upper-class person (not a compliment)

TOMBOLA  see this post

TOTTED / TOTTING  see this post 

TOTTY  an objectifying term for (usually) a woman

TRUG  a kind of basket; these days, often a handled rubber container  

TWIGGED, TWIGGING  form of twig 'to catch on, understand'

UNEQUALLED   post on double Ls

VIVA  an oral exam (short for viva voce)

WANK / WANKING  my original Word of the Year (2006!)

WEEING  AmE peeing

WELLIE  / WELLY  a (BrE) wellington boot / (AmE) rubber boot

WHIN a plant (=furze, gorse)

WHINGE  AmE whine (complain)

WILLIE / WILLY  penis

WOAD a plant used to make blue dye

WOLD a clear, upland area (mostly in place names now)

WOOLLEN   post on double Ls

YOBBO / YOBBY  hooligan / hooliganish

YODELLED   post on double Ls


46 comments

  1. Replies
    1. Your links to the 'll' words actually go to the endeavo(u)r entry

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    2. Thanks for letting me know! I hope it's fixed now.

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    3. Alee - I send it to Sam every time it’s rejected, maybe one day…

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  2. Interesting. I'd have thought Chiminea was disallowed because of it's Spanish origin rather than being BrE. Chimineas (using that spelling) are sold at Home Depot and Costco and they've been pretty common in SoCal backyards for at least three decades. I think most of the people I know would recognize that term and probably none of them would identify it as BrE. Likewise with cholla, which is a type of very grabby cactus (rhymes with hoya in AmE).

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    1. Yes, the 'cholla' cactus issue was something I noted on Twitter, but not here. I do believe there's an east-coast bias to the word list, and 'chiminea' would count there too, since I think they're probably most common where the weather is milder for more of the year.

      But—and I should have said this in the post, so I'll add it now, I did check these against the GloWbE corpus (2012), and 'chiminea' is more common in BrE than in AmE—either because they were adopted earlier in UK (probably not) or because they are a more regional thing in US.

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  3. Seconding Cathy's comment re: "chiminea." The fixture is common enough in SoCal and also in New Mexico. The Bee allows some Spanish words; one of my gripes is that "tamal" (singular of "tamales") isn't playable. But I'm fairly certain I've seen "gigged" and "gigging" on the playable list. A fellow I follow on Twitter used to maintain a running list of playable Bee words; if I track it down I'll post the link here.

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    1. (Please see comment I left for Cathy above!)

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  4. I'm a Spelling Bee addict too. I get to Genius level almost always but have only attained Queen Bee status a handful of times. My beef with the Bee is that the list of allowed and disallowed words is just weird. Words I have come to know and hate include 'callaloo' and 'palapa', along with 'gonna' and 'dunno' and suchlike. There was one occasion when the pangram was a word I'd never heard of -- it was the name of a vegetable, as I recall. The editor of the Bee seems especially fond of food words.

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  5. On Poppadom / Poppadum - I feel like I've usually seen this spelled "papadam" in US Indian restaurants. (Just speculating, but I'd guess the difference is some combination of which Indian languages were more common among the immigrants to each country, plus the difference in which of each English's vowels were closest to the vowels in the source languages.)

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    1. I *think* I tried that spelling too—I tried a lot of spellings and none of them came up, but didn't put them all into the tweet about it.

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    2. I would say and write "poppadom", but I just looked at the takeaway menus of my two closest Indian restaurants here in Cardiff (Wales) and one spells it "poppadom" while the other uses "pappodom". Looks like none of the vowels in this word have real equivalents in English.

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  6. I'm unfamiliar with Spelling Bee, but I do waste far too much time playing a similar game on my phone (Lexica). I have compiled a list of words that it refuses to accept. Some of these omissions are BrE, some just seem inexplicable.
    deeps
    eyrie
    frier
    lardon
    maser
    meads
    neeps
    nosey
    paneer
    parps
    pater
    pease
    polder
    rands
    relit
    resile
    shorn
    skies
    sorel
    tikes
    wides

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  7. I don't play spelling bee (Wordle and Waffle are enough for my poor brain before I get out of bed!), but I do play a couple of Word Twist clones on a fairly regular basis, and always have to remember which game allows which words! I get so cross when perfectly good (British) words are disallowed... I mean a "tit" is a bird, of course, and one site disallows "suck", which I think utterly ridiculous!

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  8. I don't keep a full list of mine but recently noticed I couldn't play TUPPED or PUPPED

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  9. I am American and my husband is English and we play the Bee every morning. We have been surprised and had a laugh about what is accepted and what is not accepted re Britishisms. The interesting part for me particularly, being a Spanish tutor, is the increasing level of Spanish words accepted in the Bee marking a distinct influence in the US that is not found on this side of the pond. When I say 'level', I mean...beyond 'hola, gracias and adios'.

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  10. I was surprised that 'nappy' was not allowed, as I have read it in American materials. As I'm Australian, I read 'nappy' in the British way, ie meaning what Americans call a 'diaper', so it took me a while to understand 'nappy hair', but it means 'frizzy, etc'. However, on further reading, I find it can be considered offensive in some contexts, so maybe that's why it wasn't allowed.

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  11. Just found a bit of the 'perfectly common' threads that I'd missed before (when I went to add GOOLY from today's Bee. Have added the new ones in dark red, but I'll probably change them to black at some point in future when I have another update...

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  12. I landed on your blog via a link on another blog. Being lover and student of English language, I found your posts interesting. I was going through a few links in the Events in Media section as well.
    I like word puzzles. I do the NYT Spelling Bee once in a while. So too the Wordle.
    We here in India follow the British English. However, I can see a number of youngsters here using the American variant. A classic example is the contraction of mathematics - math (US) instead of maths (UK).
    With Hollywood movies and American sitcoms available now easily around the world, I can see the influence of AmE spreading much faster than before.

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  13. Spelling Bee has accepted “tomtit,” unknown I believe in the US outside of productions of The Mikado. Dado is a good, fairly common American word.

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  14. Currently enjoying playing squaredle.app , but why does it it think gran is only a bonus word? do americans not have pralines? or climb over stiles? Nadger is not even a bonus word??
    Of course some of its choices could be just general weirdness rather than BrE/AmE differences. Who knows
    Unfortunately I have not compiled a list of 'perfectly normal BrE words that are label[l]ed bonus words'. they did a 'special' with BrE spelling a little while ago, but sadly it seemed to just be about spelling, and not a collection of words-common-in-BrE-but-not-AmE, which would have been fun.

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    Replies
    1. Stiles are, in fact, quite rare in the US. (But they're still called stiles, they're just rare.) I'm entirely sure I learned the word from BrE children's books. I'm not sure I've ever actually seen one in the US at all. I think that has to do with how land rights differ.

      I don't recognize nadger, even as a pretty well-read (AmE) adult.

      We definitely have pralines, although the word doesn't mean the same thing everywhere; US pralines are pecans covered in sugar -- I gather that in some parts of the world pralines are some sort of chocolate candy?

      Delete
  15. I'd guess that "cooch" is left out because of it's vulgar AmE sense.

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  16. I play this most days, and should write down my rejects. Frequently they're math, aviation, or woodworking terms (see "dado" above). I'm from California and have lived in Illinois a long time, so have noticed a strong NY city bias when looking the next day at the words I missed--lots of foodie terms and Jewish-adjacent vocabulary.

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  17. I don't do this game but I guess there are plenty of other common words that their dictionary misses. Some guesses would be
    DOOBRY (or alternative spellings) or WAZZOCK

    Having tried to play today one word which wasn't accepted which surprised me was MILT. I was also surprised it accepted LENT but not LENTEN. I was less surprised that MELL wasn't in the dictionary.

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  18. Foetal - I think you mean AmE fetal. Also Lovage - maybe 2023?

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    Replies
    1. Typos corrected. I have also added a link to my discussion of f(o)etal in a previous post.

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  19. I'm curious... What kind of context is "crim" used in? I tried looking it up, but all I found was that it's short for "criminal," and not what usage of "criminal."

    In my (admittedly very American) brain, it seems like it'd be used as an adjective. E.g. "That's very crim." Maybe also as a noun, e.g. "Catch that crim!" Either/both of those? Anything else I haven't thought of?

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    Replies
    1. Dictionaries.com says both. I've mostly found it for the noun, e.g.: "The kid was a crim, but he was also a 17 year old. "

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    2. In Australia, crim is only ever used as a noun (a crim, the crim, etc), never an adjective.

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  20. Ten years ago, Antonin Scalia's use of "argle-bargle" in his dissent to the ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act got a good deal of attention. https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4930

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  21. I guess I have birds on the brain because I got fed up with it and stopped playing one day when it wouldn't accept "chook" (a perfectly normal word here in Australia for a chicken) or potoo, which is a type of nightjar from Central and South America.

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  22. Ian Mac Eochagáin29 December, 2023 20:23

    I've discovered one this evening: "filo", as in "filo pastry".

    ReplyDelete
  23. Mac Eochagáin Ian01 January, 2024 09:17

    Happy New Year Lynne! Another find today: “mammy”. This is probably a lot more common in Ireland than in Britain, but still.

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    Replies
    1. Like “nappy,” that’s a word that has an offensive history in AmE, because of its associations with slavery and minstrelsy.

      Delete
    2. Ian Mac Eochagáin11 January, 2024 09:51

      Wow. Didn't know that!

      Delete
  24. Ian Mac Eochagáin11 January, 2024 09:51

    Two more finds today: appanage/apanage, depending on whether you prefer the French or English spelling. It even has a Wikipedia page.

    ReplyDelete
  25. A new one from a couple of days ago: "conman". Couldn't believe this was disallowed!

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  26. A new find today: whin, regional English for gorse.

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  27. "Ratafia" today, which Cambridge has. A type of biscuit.

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  28. WOOLWORK and TIDDLY over the last couple of days (WOODWORK was, however, allowed). Today: CACK, BROCK (badger, or is this too archaic?).

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  29. NATATION (is this really not used in the US?)

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    Replies
    1. It's really used in French...All of the examples in the British GloWbE corpus are in French or are typos for 'nation'.

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AmE = American English
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OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)