What makes a word “correctly English”?

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“I think back then, if a crossword puzzle editor wanted to decide if a word was worthy of a puzzle, he could pull a dictionary off the shelf and quiz his colleagues,” puzzle builder Erik wrote. Agard in an email interview. As a publisher, in the age of the internet, I can just google it, or search it on Twitter or whatever, and have access to a much wider range of perspectives, which makes me less likely to keep things that are not in my personal wheelhouse “

The internet has also changed who has access to puzzles. A wave of new puzzles discovered crossword puzzles via The New York Times Crossword app, which began digitizing the puzzle in 2014. With this, builders had to take into consideration an audience that suddenly became much more young and more diverse, said Fagliano.

The internet has also resulted in a more sophisticated conversation about what words builders should use in puzzles. While Fagliano has said that no words are automatically left off the table, there has been growing talk about what words builders should or shouldn’t use or how they should describe their meaning. In some cases, these debates have called into question inputs that manufacturers have used for decades.

For example, there have been recent puzzles that the term “ogle” defines a form of harassment. The term has been used 438 times, according to XWord Information, a database of terms used in the New York Times crosswords. Descriptions of the word have changed from “flirting” in 1942 or “looking lovingly” in 1994 to “It’s not beautiful” or “obscene eye” in 2021.

Then there are ways in which the puzzles found terms that may not have been inclusive for marginalized communities. Fagliano noted that “wife”, for example, was mainly used as an equivalent of the word “husband”, thus putting the idea of ​​same-sex spouses outside the norm of puzzles.

With the Internet popularizing words from some cultures, puzzles have also arguably become more inclusive. This change may help more people feel seen in crossword puzzles, but the builders also point out that popularization can dull a linguistic cultural phenomenon. Builders run the risk of misappropriation, of changing the original meaning of a term without recognizing the history and cultures of those who invented it.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Anna Shechtman, a New York-based puzzle designer. The number of crossword puzzles created “means that the kind of quantity and quality of inclusive representation is simply maximized in a huge way. And it’s really exciting. On the other hand, this means that the opportunities for cultural appropriation are also all the more.


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