A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The amazing ENABLE word-list project

While looking for a good word list to use for a project that I am working on, I discovered ENABLE (which stands for Enhanced North American Benchmark LEexicon), a word list that seems to have been compiled mainly by Alan Beale (with some help from Mendel Cooper) in order to create a reference that can be used when playing word games. Since it is an open and freely available list, it has served as the basis for the word lists used in many games, such as Words with Friends. What distinguishes this word list from the many others out there is how thoroughly its creation has been documented in the many files in the ENABLE package and its supplemental archive.

For this reason, many of the disadvantages of the Scrabble Tournament Word List can be eliminated. For instance, as the compilers themselves note:

In contrast to other word lists, the ENABLE list has not been crippled by being limited to words under an arbitrary length. The ENABLE list is eminently suitable for most word games, such as Anagrams and Clabbers, and for crossword puzzle solving, rather than just for Scrabble. A great deal of research has gone into removing this limitation, however the list is much the better for it.
Another critique of the Scrabble Word Lists and Dictionaries is that they are carrying around many words that were in dictionaries back in the 1970s but have long since disappeared from both usage and lexicons. The ENABLE supplement includes a list of 9,768 stale words (which it defines as words that appear in the Scrabble Tournament Word List but not in modern dictionaries).

Most of these stale words (like AXAL (an obsolete form of "axial") and WHERVE ("a round piece of wood put on a spindle to receive the thread")) were words I had never heard of and therefore had no problem eliminating from the word list for my project. There were also some words that I thought needed to be retained based on being in common usage including SPELUNK/SPELUNKED/SPELUNKING (which, according to the Google Books Ngram Viewer, has been used with increasing frequency since about the 1940s) and UPSTANDING (which peaked in popularity in the 1920s, reached a local minimum around 1970, but has been on the upswing since 1990).

This is only a sampling of what makes ENABLE so useful. Amateur lexicographers and other interested parties can find and download the whole ENABLE package through this page.