What Is Collins Scrabble Words and Why Does It Matter?

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In joining the competitive Scrabble community, one of the most important details to learn is what words are legal for play in tournaments. If you’re playing in North America, that’s likely the NASPA Word List. But, if you’re playing in a tournament anywhere else in the world (or you are playing in a tournament with international entrants), you need to know about Collins Scrabble Words (CSW). This is the official dictionary for every sponsored Scrabble tournament the world over.

What Is Collins Scrabble Words?

Collins Official Scrabble Words is the most complete and expansive list of valid Scrabble words in the world. Its current version, the 2019 edition, has more than 279,000 entries. These words come from nearly every country where English is a primary language. This includes countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. 

Compared to the NASPA Word List

Collins Scrabble Words also features some words from the United States and Canada. This means that Collins Scrabble Words and the NASPA Word List (NWL) share a fair bit of overlap. That’s a good thing, just as the inclusion of words from every country is. It’s what makes playing international tournaments possible. When competitors unscramble words to play, they need to agree on whether it's a valid move.

For more specific discussion on the differences between NWL and CSW, refer to the NASPA website. They cover important details like the 52 two- to eight-letter words that appear in the NWL, but not in Collins dictionary.

Is It a Dictionary or a Word List?

The short answer is that Collins Scrabble Words is both

When discussing a collection of words for playing Scrabble, players use both terms interchangeably. There are instances, due to complex legal reasons, that a collection of words cannot be promoted or sold as a dictionary. Organizations get around this by simply labeling their product as a word list. So, in the grand scheme of all things Scrabble, calling something either a word list or a dictionary is acceptable. 

It's worth noting that if you're looking for Words With Friends help, the word list for that game tends to be more lenient than both Collins Scrabble Words and the NASPA Word List. If a word is playable in Scrabble, it's likely playable in WWF, but the reverse isn't always true.

Where Did Collins Scrabble Words Come From?

The origins of Collins Scrabble Words (CSW) date back to 1980. In that year, the Chambers Dictionary became the United Kingdom’s official arbitrator for the British National Scrabble Championship. A few years later, in 1988, Chambers published a complete Scrabble word list, which they named the Official Scrabble Words from Chambers (OSW).

From OSW to OSPD to CSW

In the years following the release of OSW, many players and organizers called for a word list that combined words from both the OSW and the Official Scrabble Player Dictionary (OSPD), which was the main dictionary used in North America at the time. 

Individual regions began combining the lists on their own to use in tournaments, but there was no official standard for doing so. To oblige the desire for an official combined list, Chambers published the Chambers' Official Scrabble Words: International Edition in the early 2000s.

Years later, the Collins English Dictionary took over the management and publishing duties of the word list, rebranding it as Collins Official Scrabble Words. This name is commonly shortened to Collins Scrabble Words or just CSW.

What Is Collins Scrabble Words Used for?

The official word list exists to serve the World English Language Scrabble Players Association, or WESPA for short. This is the organization that manages and promotes all sanctioned Scrabble tournaments worldwide. (Again, this excludes most tournaments in the United States and Canada, which are run by NASPA.) 

WESPA is supported and sponsored by Mattel, the company that publishes the Scrabble game in every country except the United States and Canada.

Official Tournament Status

This official status and high relevance in the Scrabble community is why everyone who contributes to and uses Collins Scrabble Words strives to ensure that every word in it is useful and appropriate for the game. Before inclusion in the list, words are researched thoroughly to ensure that they meet specific criteria. Typically, the first and most important criterion is that they appear in a reputable and college-level dictionary.

Removing Words From the List

Adding words is a rigorous process, but another difficult job is taking words out of the dictionary. Words are tools and assets to Scrabble players, so the removal of any word can result in complaints or even backlash. But, sometimes, the majority of players, tournament organizers and invested corporations see the value in removing certain words.

One example of the call to remove words came in 2020 during a time of civil unrest in the United States. Due to concerns about insensitivity to race-related issues, Mattel, WESPA and Collins English Dictionary decided that it was best to remove specific words that were deemed offensive. NASPA followed suit.

Other Official Scrabble Dictionaries

The Collins Scrabble dictionary is the essential word list for all serious Scrabble players. The incorporation of words from multiple English-speaking countries into one list makes consistency and fair competition possible in international tournaments. But, as important as Collins Scrabble Words is, it is not the only official Scrabble dictionary. That’s why, when using a Scrabble word finder, you need to choose the right word list.

As mentioned, the NASPA Word List (NWL) is used in North American Scrabble tournaments. And, the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) is still the official Scrabble players dictionary. Read our deep dive into the different Scrabble dictionary options available and how they are used to learn more.

Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.


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