You Could Look It Up

Q. In the early 1930s, my grandmother won a citywide crossword puzzle contest in New York City, earning the $1,000 prize at a time when money was tight. The winning word was qobar, a word that no longer appears in even unabridged dictionaries. Once a word is a word, isn’t it always a word?

A. Yes. But so far, there has never been a dictionary that listed all the words. There are too many words! One of the standards that lexicographers use when deciding which words to delete to make way for new ones is whether a word is actually used very often in a meaningful way. At least one online dictionary, Wordnik, has a goal of listing all the words available. Qobar isn’t listed there yet—maybe you should send it!