In Scrabble, two-letter words are often used only as a last resort. In a race to use up your final few tiles at the end of the game, low-scoring pairs like AD, AS, AN, and AT can suddenly become unexpectedly useful. But among competitive Scrabble players, two-letter words are a crafty means of boosting your score: Instead of linking one word perpendicularly to another, try playing one word directly on top of, alongside, or overlapping another on the board to form a chain of two-letter words between the two. So imagine, for instance, that your opponent has just played the word EARTH. If you play the word DREAM directly beneath it, one letter below the other, then you’ll not only pick up points for using your D, R, E, A, and M, but you’ll also score for the words ED, AR, RE, TA, and HM that are formed between the two.
More than 100 two-letter words are acceptable in Scrabble; 22 of the most unfamiliar and most bizarre of which are listed here.
Note: In North America, all the words that are officially acceptable in a game of Scrabble are listed on the TWL or Official Tournament Word List. In the rest of the English-speaking world—including the UK and Australia—Scrabble players use the so-called SOWPODS list, which combines Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary and the Official Scrabble Words list produced by The Chambers Dictionary. All of the words listed here are included on both lists, and so are officially playable in any English language game.
You’ll only score two points for the name of this rough and rubbly basaltic lava, but it’ll be a useful two points if you’re sitting with a rack full of vowels. You can also play AI, the name of a species of three-toed sloth, and AE, a Scots variation of "one."
An abbreviation of agriculture, used in phrases like "ag college" and "ag school."
Another name for the Indian mulberry tree, Morinda citrifolia.
You can play the names of all of the letters of the alphabet in Scrabble, including AR, ES, and TEE.
BA is an old dialect word meaning "to kiss," but among Egyptologists it’s also the name given to a person’s immortal soul.
American slang for a boy or best friend, and an exclamation used to frighten or surprise someone.
You can use DE as a synonym of "from" or "of."
As well as being the name of the letter L (you can play EM and EN as well), an EL is an elevated railroad.
A dialect spelling of "ate."
Also spelled PE (which is also acceptable, incidentally), FE is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
The expressions HM, HMM, UM, and MM are all acceptable in Scrabble, as are HA, HO, OH, and AH.
An old Scots word for a sweetheart.
Like the BA, in Egyptian culture, the KA is the spiritual part of a person's soul.
A LI is a standard Chinese unit of distance, equal to 500 meters.
As the names of letters of the Greek alphabet, you can play both MU and NU in Scrabble.
OD is the Odic Force, a hypothetical life force theorized to exist by the 19th-century philosopher Carl Reichenbach.
As well as being an old word for an island, the OE is a whirlwind near the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic.
Taken from Sanskrit, the syllable OM is used as a mantra in certain forms of meditation.
In Chinese philosophy, QI is the vital life force inherent in all things.
The first note of the musical scale, now known as DO, was originally called UT. The other note names RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, and TE (or TI) are all also acceptable.
As well as the name of the Greek letter XI, you can also play the word XU in Scrabble as the name of a monetary unit worth one-hundredth of a Vietnamese dong.
As a slang abbreviation of "pizza," ZA is worth remembering if you need to ditch a letter Z at the end of the game. If you're playing with the SOWPODS list outside of North America, you can also play the word ZO or DZO, which is the name of a hybrid of a domestic cow and a Himalayan yak.
Are you a logophile? Do you want to learn unusual words and old-timey slang to make conversation more interesting, or discover fascinating tidbits about the origins of everyday phrases? Then pick up our new book, The Curious Compendium of Wonderful Words: A Miscellany of Obscure Terms, Bizarre Phrases, & Surprising Etymologies, out June 6! You can pre-order your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or Bookshop.org.