Originally posted in 2011 or thereabouts, but recently updated with new words since this is all I’ve been doing for the last month…

Crosswords, particularly the NYT version, require a special lexicon of absurd, vowel-rich words. Words like ALLA, ALB, ODER, and OTOE–words you’ll probably never use outside a black and white grid. When I began doing the NYT puzzles, which wasn’t that long ago, I realized that in order to be successful at them I needed to arm myself with the necessary vocabulary. The list below was culled from the notes I wrote in the margins of the puzzles I finished, many of which appeared over and over again (talking to you, HAJJ). Of course, knowing words like these isn’t going to make you a whiz. For that, you’ll need skill, insight, and perseverance. And tons of practice.

Assorted Nouns and Verbs

  1. Adar — The twelfth month of the Jewish year, occurring in February/March.
  2. Adonai — Hebrew for God
  3. Adz/Adze — similar to an axe, a wood-shaping tool
  4. Aga/Agha — title for a civil or military leader especially in Turkey
  5. Aglet — a small plastic or metal cladding on the end of shoelaces
  6. Ague — a fit of shivering associated with chills and fever
  7. Alai — as in Jai Alai, a Basque game
  8. Akita — a curly-tailed dog
  9. Alla — as in Alla Breve, the musical symbol for cut time.
  10. Alb — a long white linen robe with tapered sleeves worn by a priest at Mass.
  11. Alee — the side away from the direction from which the wind blows
  12. Alit — past tense of alight: to get down and settle; to come by chance
  13. Amoco — oil/gas company with torch in its logo
  14. Anorak — a heavy jacket with a hood; a parka
  15. Aspe — a domed, semicircular recess in a church often covered in art or stained glass.
  16. Asti — an Italian sparkler
  17. Asea — in the Direction of the Sea; on the ocean.
  18. Assay — an appraisal of the state of affairs; “they made an assay of the contents”
  19. Attar the pale-yellow liquid essential oil distilled from fresh petals of Roses
  20. Auf — as in “auf wiedersehen,” goodbye (GR.)
  21. Avers — to affirm positively; declare.
  22. Berm — a mound or bank of earth, used especially as a barrier or to provide insulation.
  23. Beryl — a transparent to translucent glassy mineral occurring in hexagonal prisms
  24. Bhang — hallucinogenic beverage from India
  25. Cadge — to bum, begging
  26. Coir — the stiff fibers from the outer husk of a coconut
  27. Cozen — to hoodwink (Latin)
  28. Cur — an fighting, mutt dog
  29. Dhow— a traditional Arab sailing vessel with one or more lateen sails.
  30. Dint — force or effort; power: succeeded by dint of hard work.
  31. Dolor — sorrow, grief
  32. Dross — an impurity
  33. Ecru — the shade greyish-pale yellow or a light greyish-yellowish brown (#C2B280).
  34. Edam — a Dutch Cheese
  35. Edda — early Icelandic literary works, Poetic Edda
  36. Eft — a young newt (larva-eft-adult)
  37. Egest — To discharge or excrete from the body
  38. Elal — The Airline of Israel
  39. Elan — Distinctive style or flair.
  40. Eland — An antelope from Africa
  41. Ennead — the nine great Osirian gods of ancient Egypt (see Osiris), alt: a group of nine
  42. Erat — as in Q.E.D., quod erat demonstrandum
  43. Ermine — A weasel of northern regions, having dark brown fur that in winter changes to white.
  44. Esthete — One who cultivates an unusually high sensitivity to beauty, as in art or nature (also aesthete)
  45. Ewer —  A pitcher, typically with an oval base and a flaring spout.
  46. Fey — magical
  47. Flue — a pipe/chimney/duct for conveying exhaust to the outdoors.
  48. Gam — a group of Whales (also a Pod of whales, more common usage)
  49. Gesso — Painter’s plaster.
  50. Gnar — snarl, growl
  51. Hewn — cut down with an ax; “a hewn oak”
  52. Hoi Polloi — Greek for “the many”
  53. Haj/Hajj — Mecca pilgrimage
  54. Laic — secular
  55. Lea — a grassland or meadow
  56. Lee — the sheltered side; the side away from the wind
  57. Lentando — a gradual slowing in music
  58. Loess — windblown soil
  59. Loge — the front row of the mezzanine in the theater, or a box seat.
  60. Loo — an historic card game (17th century), popularized in Jane Austen novels.
  61. Meno — as in Meno Mosso, the musical term
  62. Monad — a simple organism
  63. Nares — openings to the nasal cavities that allow air to flow through
  64. OAS — Western treaty grp., the Organization of American States
  65. Obi — a Japanese sash
  66. Oda — the Turkish word from “room”, or a room within a harem.
  67. Opah — a large, brightly-colored fish (a.k.a., sunfish)
  68. Oriel — a bay window
  69. Ovule — a small body that contains the female germ cell of a plant (WTF??)
  70. Plat — a map drawn to scale, showing the divisions of a piece of land
  71. Plotz — Yiddish meaning to burst or explode
  72. Proffer — to put forth an offer for work
  73. Quod — as in Q.E.D., quod erat demonstrandum
  74. Rangy— tall and thin and having long slender limbs
  75. Rhea — bird, “cousin of Emu”
  76. Riata — a long-noosed rope used by ranchers
  77. Rime — an accumulation of ice due to wind and freezing. Example.
  78. Roue — a man devoted to a life of sensual pleasure; a debauchee; a rake.
  79. Sampan — a Chinese wooden boat
  80. Sard — a reddish-brown gem
  81. Satori — Zen enlightenment
  82. Scion — descendant or heir
  83. Scrag — an unattractively skinny person or animal
  84. Sot — drunkard
  85. STE — abbreviation for Fr. Holy Woman
  86. Stoat — an ermine in its summer coat (see ermine)
  87. Synod — a council of the church
  88. Tam — a Scottish cap for men (tam o’ shanter)
  89. Tern — shorebird, fork-tailed bird
  90. Tetra — brightly colored tropical freshwater fishes
  91. Togs — clothes, duds
  92. Tole — lacquered metalware
  93. Trice — brief moment
  94. Troika — a group of three
  95. Ugli — a large, sweet variety of tangelo, of Jamaican origin, having rough, wrinkled, yellowish skin.

Places, Exotic and Otherwise

  1. Andorra — a European mini-state landlocked by Spain and France.
  2. Arno — a river in Tuscany (Italy)
  3. Brae — Scottish countryside
  4. Cuzco — A city in southeastern Peru that was the capital of the Inca empire
  5. Ebro — Spain’s longest river
  6. Elba — Napolean’s exile home pops up a lot
  7. Etna — an inactive Sicilian volcano=tallest mountain in Europe. Also a gas heater in a chemistry lab.
  8. Lille— An industrial city in northern France near the Belgian border.
  9. Muscat — The capital of Oman
  10. Oder — a river in Europe that flows to the Baltic
  11. Otaru — a port city in Japan and the name of a beer.
  12. Phnom Penh — the largest and capital city of Cambodia
  13. Pyongyang  — capital of North Korea
  14. Ruhr — a river connecting to the Rhine
  15. Sana — the capital of Yemen, also Sana’a
  16. Skoal — Scandinavian greeting
  17. Soo — Canals in the Great Lake region
  18. Tara — The sacred burial site of ancient Irish kings (Hill of Tara). Also the mother goddess in Druidism, as well as a tantric meditation deity in Buddhism.
  19. Ulan — as in Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia
  20. Ural — A river flowing between Russia and Kazakhstan; also a mountain region there.
  21. Yalu – a river in China on the border of North Korea


  1. Akira — Akira Kurosawa, film maker
  2. Aleta — Prince Valiant’s wife
  3. Ara — Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian
  4. Cayuga — a Native American Tribe from New York State
  5. Elis — Yale students
  6. Esau — Biblical twin to Jacob
  7. Iago — Othello’s nemesis
  8. Joad — family in Grapes of Wrath
  9. Kalel — Superman’s birth name
  10. Laertes — Hamlet’s rival
  11. Odawa — Native American tribe based in Ontario, Michigan, and Ohio
  12. Odin — the chief god in Norse mythology
  13. Osiris — Egyptian god of the afterlife, brother of Isis
  14. Otoe — Native American tribe now based in Oklahoma
  15. Tico/Tica —  is a colloquial term for a native of Costa Rica

Alt Meanings to Common Words

  1. Gore — to wound by piercing with a sharp object (v) or a triangular piece of cloth (n).
  2. Peal — the sound of thunder
  3. Slate — The list of candidates for a political party running for various offices.
  4. Spar — the pole on ships (modern term is mast) sometimes used for flags.
  5. Treed — To be cornered or otherwise denied escape.

More as I learn them…