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Crosswordese is the group of words frequently found in US crossword puzzles but seldom found in everyday conversation. The words are usually short, three to five letters, with letter combinations which crossword constructors find useful in the creation of crossword puzzles, such as words that start and/or end with vowels, abbreviations consisting entirely of consonants, unusual combinations of letters, and words consisting almost entirely of frequently used letters. Such words are needed in almost every puzzle to some extent. Too much crosswordese in a crossword puzzle is frowned upon by cruciverbalists and crossword enthusiasts.

Knowing the language of "crosswordese" is helpful to constructors and solvers alike. According to Marc Romano, "to do well solving crosswords, you absolutely need to keep a running mental list of "crosswordese", the set of recurring words that constructors reach for whenever they are heading for trouble in a particular section of the grid."[1]

Frequently used crosswordese[edit]

When applicable, example clues will be denoted in square brackets and answers will be denoted in all caps, e.g. [Example clue] for ANSWER.

Portions of phrases are occasionally used as fill in the blank clues. For instance, "Et tu, Brute?" might appear in a puzzle's clue sheet as "_____, Brute?"


Biblical references[edit]

Brand and trade names[edit]

  • Afta[3] and Atra – Gillette brand aftershave and safety razor, respectively
  • STP – a brand of motor oil additives; slogan "The Racer's Edge"
  • Oreo

Computers and the Internet[edit]

  • SCSI – pronounced "scuzzy", a set of standards to physically connect computers and peripherals for the purpose of transferring data.
  • LAN – local area network, a network of computers in a limited area.
  • HTML - the standard language for documents designed to be displayed in a web browser.

Currency and finance[edit]

Directions between cities[edit]

A 16-point compass rose showing the 16 standard compass directions.

Many puzzles ask for the direction from one city to another. These directions always fall between the standard octaval compass points—i.e., North (N – 0° or 360°), Northeast (NE – 45°), East (E – 90°), etc.

The directions asked for on clue sheets are usually approximations. Starting at north and going clockwise, the directions are:

  • NNE = North-northeast (22.5°)
  • ENE = East-northeast (67.5°)
  • ESE = East-southeast (112.5°)
  • SSE = South-southeast (157.5°)
  • SSW = South-southwest (202.5°)
  • WSW = West-southwest (247.5°)
  • WNW = West-northwest (292.5°)
  • NNW = North-northwest (337.5°)

Directions on the mariner's compass (divided into 32 directions) may also be encountered, although generally clued more explicitly:

  • NBE = North by east (11.25°)
  • NEBN = Northeast by north (33.75°)
  • NEBE = Northeast by east (56.25°)
  • EBN = East by north (78.75°)
  • EBS = East by south (101.25°)
  • SEBE = Southeast by east (123.75°)
  • SEBS = Southeast by south (146.25°)
  • SBE = South by east (168.75°)
  • SBW = South by west (191.25°)
  • SWBS = Southwest by south (213.75°)
  • SWBW = Southwest by west (236.25°)
  • WBS = West by south (258.75°)
  • WBN = West by north (281.25°)
  • NWBW = Northwest by west (303.75°)
  • NWBN = Northwest by north (326.25°)
  • NBW = North by west (348.75°)

Fictional characters[edit]

Food and drink[edit]

Foreign words[edit]

  • Ano – more properly año (the tilde is usually ignored), Spanish for "year"[4]
  • Eau – water in French, plural Eaux[5]
  • Erse – Scottish Gaelic
  • Été – summer in French[6]
  • Frau – German for "woman", "wife" or "Mrs."
  • Herr – German for "Mister (Mr.)"
  • Mme – abbreviation of the French honorific "Madame"[6]
  • Mann – German for "man" or "husband"
  • Sra. – abbreviation for señora (Spanish)[4]
  • Srta. – abbreviation for señorita (Spanish)[4]
  • Tío and Tía – Spanish for "uncle" and "aunt", respectively

General adjectives and adverbs[edit]

  • Eoan – an adjective meaning "of the dawn"


  • Proper names:
    • Aare, Aar - tributary of the Rhine in Switzerland
    • Adak – island in the western extent of the Aleutian chain
    • Agra – an ancient city in India best known as the location of the Taj Mahal[7]
    • Arno - river of Italy
    • Asti – a city of Italy known for its sparkling wines
    • Attu – westernmost island in the Aleutian chain
    • Ebro - river of Spain
    • Eder - river of Germany
    • Elbe - Central European river
    • Erie – a Great Lake and Pennsylvania port
    • Neva - river of Russia that travels through Saint Petersburg, and a connected Bay
    • Oise - river of France and Belgium
    • Oslo - the capital of Norway
    • Ouse – river in Yorkshire
    • Ural – a river and mountain range in Russia[8]
    • Yser - river of France and Belgium
  • General terms:
    • Arete – a thin ridge of rock that is formed by glaciers\
    • Mesa – a Spanish word commonly used in English — especially in the American Southwest — to designate a plateau that sits higher in elevation than its immediate surroundings.[4]
    • Tor – a rock outcrop formed by weathering


  • Ahem – used to represent the noise made when clearing the throat
  • Damn – used to express anger or frustration
  • Haha – used to represent laughter
  • Hmm – used to express uncertainty
  • Jeez – used to show surprise or annoyance
  • Phew – used to express relief
  • Psst – used to attract someone's attention
  • Whoa – used to express surprise
  • Wowee – used to express astonishment
  • Yea – used as an affirmative response

Jargon and slang[edit]

  • Alee – in seaman's language, toward the side opposite the wind[3]


Because of crossword rules that restrict the usage of two-letter words, only entries of three or more letters have been listed.

Singular aye bee cee dee n/a eff gee aitch n/a jay kay ell n/a
Plural ayes bees cees dees n/a efs/effs gees aitches n/a jays kays els/ells ems
Singular n/a n/a pee cue n/a ess tee n/a vee double-u n/a wye zee/zed
Plural ens ohs pees cues ars[9] esses tees n/a vees double-us exs/exes/xes wyes zees/zeds

Often these letters are clued as puns, e.g. the clue [Puzzle center?] for ZEES, referring to the two Zs in the center of the word "puzzle".

The "zed" spelling of Z is often indicated by a reference to a Commonwealth country, where that is the standard pronunciation (e.g. [British puzzle center?] for ZEDS).

Latin words and phrases[edit]

  • Ad hoc – pertaining to a specific problem
  • Dies Irae – Day of Wrath – a medieval hymn used in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass
  • Et tu, Brute? – alleged last words spoken by Julius Caesar after being stabbed by his friend Brutus
  • Veni, vidi, vici – a phrase spoken by Julius Caesar meaning "I came, I saw, I conquered"

Manmade items[edit]


Multiple meanings[edit]

Names of contemporary people (20th and 21st centuries)[edit]

(Note: The popularity of certain names used in crosswordese may wane with the passing of time. For instance, "Ito" – as in Robert Ito, a Canadian-born actor of Japanese descent who was a regular on Quincy, M.E. from 1976 to 1983—continued to be a popular crosswordese reference throughout most of the 1980s. Yet, although he has remained active professionally, and the name got reexposed in the 1990s due to judge Lance Ito's presiding over the O. J. Simpson murder case, the appearance of the name in today's crosswords is a rare occurrence.)

Names of historical people[edit]

Nature, references to[edit]

Poetic phrases and terms[edit]

  • E'en – contraction of "even"
  • Erin – poetic name for Ireland
  • O'er – contraction of "over"


  • Aero- – relating to flight and air
  • Pyro- – relating to fire and heat


  • -ase – a suffix used to form the names of enzymes
  • -ism – indicating a belief or principle
  • -ist – indicating an adherent to a belief or principle
  • -ite – a suffix with several meanings, including a faithful follower of a certain person, a mineral, and a native of a certain place
  • -ose – a suffix in chemistry indicating sugar
  • -ule – a suffix meaning small

Religious holidays, festivals, celebrations and observances[edit]

  • Eid – Arabic for "festival"; part of the names of several Islamic festivals
  • Hajj – the pilgrimage every faithful Muslim is obliged to perform; one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Often spelled "Hadj" in the New York Times.
  • Purim – the festival celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from a plot to annihilate them, as told in the Book of Esther
  • Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán – the Vietnamese new year, Lunar new year

Roman numerals[edit]

Many puzzles ask for Roman numerals either as answers or as portions of answers. For instance:

  • a puzzle might ask for the solution of 1916 − 1662 as "MCMXVI minus MDCLXII." The answer (254) would be written as CCLIV.
  • LEOIV is the answer to a clue about Pope Leo IV.
  • a puzzle might ask which Super Bowl was the first to be played in Tampa, Florida. The answer is XVIII.

Standard Roman numerals run from 1 to 3999, or I to MMMCMXCIX. The first ten Roman numerals are:

For numerals representing values equal to or greater than 4000, a line is placed above the numeral. The following table shows the numerals used in crossword puzzles.

Symbol Value
I 1 (one) (unus)
V 5 (five) (quinque)
X 10 (ten) (decem)
L 50 (fifty) (quinquaginta)
C 100 (one hundred) (centum)
D 500 (five hundred) (quingenti)
M 1,000 (one thousand) (mille)

For those who are curious, the chart below shows numeral values up to 900,000.

×1 ×2 ×3 ×4 ×5 ×6 ×7 ×8 ×9
Ten thousands X XX XXX XL L LX LXX LXXX XC
Hundred thousands C CC CCC CD D DC DCC DCCC CM

Use of medieval Roman numerals (an informalized system that spanned most of the Latin alphabet) is almost unheard of.


  • Ozone – a pale-blue, inorganic molecule
  • Xenon – a colourless noble gas with symbol 'Xe' and atomic-number '54'

Sports and gaming[edit]

Titles of books, plays, movies, etc.[edit]

Titles used by royalty and the nobility[edit]

  • Aga – a Turkish honorific for a high-level government official; occasionally spelled "agha."
  • Bey – the governor of a district or province in the Ottoman Empire
  • Emir – a title given to princes and/or sheikhs who rule certain Arab countries; may also be spelled amir, aamir or ameer
  • Pasha
  • Raji, Rana, Rani, Ranee - Former Indian monarch and their wife (often clued as a princess)


U.S. states and Canadian provinces[edit]

Weaponry and warfare[edit]

  • Epee – a fencing sword
  • Inee – A type of arrow poison. Uncommon in crosswords released after 1993.[23]
  • Snee – a dagger or knife

World War II[edit]


  1. ^ Romano, Marc (2006). "Puzzle Neophyte Seeks Puzzle Mentor". Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Broadway Books. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-7679-1758-2.
  2. ^ a b c d Der, Kevin; Pasco, Paolo (13 June 2018). "How to Make a Crossword Puzzle". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "How Well Do You Know Your 'Crosswordese?'". The New York Times. 28 November 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Amlen, Deb (15 February 2018). "10 Spanish Words That Will Raise Your Crossword Game". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  5. ^ "EAU".
  6. ^ a b Ezersky, Sam (30 May 2018). "15 French Words That Will Raise Your Crossword Game". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  7. ^ Ezersky, Sam (13 November 2019). "The Crossword Travel Guide: 10 Cities You Should Know". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  8. ^ Amlen, Deb; Ezersky, Sam (12 July 2017). "12 European Rivers That Will Help You Raise Your Crossword Game". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  9. ^ Amlen, Deb (22 April 2019). "What the Heck Is That?: Ars". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  10. ^ "Definition of ESPY". Retrieved 2021-11-13.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g "The Shortz List of Crossword Celebrities". Slate. 27 January 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
  12. ^ Ezersky, Sam (21 November 2018). "The Crossword Library: 11 Authors You Should Know". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Ezersky, Sam (7 August 2019). "The Griddy Awards, Part 2: 10 Male Actors You Should Know". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  14. ^ Amlen, Deb (7 April 2020). "Who the Heck Is That?: Isao". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  15. ^ Amlen, Deb (19 April 2017). "10 Sports Names That Will Help You Become a Better Crossword Solver". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  16. ^ Ezersky, Sam (8 May 2019). "The Griddy Awards, Part 1: 10 Female Actors You Should Know". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  17. ^ "ANOA".
  18. ^ Ezersky, Sam (2 March 2018). "These Words Are for the Birds: A Crossword Aviary". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  19. ^ Ezersky, Sam (12 April 2018). "The Crossword Zoo: 10 Animals You Should Know". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  20. ^ "10 Baseball Terms That Will Help You Become a Better Crossword Solver". The New York Times. 1 April 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  21. ^ Amlen, Deb (7 May 2018). "What the Heck Is That?: OED". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  22. ^ Ezersky, Sam (19 September 2018). "The Crossword Garage: 8 Car Makes and Models You Should Know". The New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  23. ^ "INEE".

Further reading[edit]