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Disputed words

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Several of Countdown's rules regarding which ODE words are permitted and which are not are applied inconsistently. This page lists words which should be "approached with caution".


Mass noun plurals

The Countdown rules state:-

These notes outline the general rules that the judges in dictionary corner use when deciding whether a noun can have a plural. Nouns and senses of nouns may be labelled in the dictionary as being either [MASS NOUN] or [COUNT NOUN]. If an entry for a noun has no label, it indicates that the noun is an ordinary countable noun, and a plural is allowed: for example, table-tables, boy-boys, book-books, lass-lasses, and so on. If an entry for a noun has the label [MASS NOUN] it means that the word is not usually or typically used in the plural, for example 'sanidine'. In this case the plural would not be allowed. However, there are particular types of mass nouns that can take a plural under certain circumstances – for instance when referring to different types of something such as food. Because these types of nouns follow regular rules for forming plurals in particular contexts, the dictionary does not generally indicate that a plural may be allowed. The main types are listed below. Where a noun falls into one of these categories, it means that a plural is usually allowed, though each individual case will be judged on its merits. Categories of mass nouns that can take a plural:
  1. Types or varieties of:
    • food, e.g. yogurt/yogurts, pasta/pastas, cheese/cheeses
    • drink: e.g. rum/rums, lager/lagers
    • plants: e.g. bergamot
    • fabric: e.g. gingham/ginghams, silk/silks
    • certain languages or subjects: e.g. music/musics
    • metals and alloys: e.g. steel/steels, solder/solders
    • rocks: e.g. granite/granites, lava/lavas, clay/clays
    • chemical compounds: e.g. fluoride/fluorides
    • some substances or materials: e.g. rind/rinds, soil/soils, sealskin/sealskins, suncream/suncreams
  2. Portions or units of something, especially food and drink: e.g. lager (glasses/bottles of lager = lagers), paella (dishes of paella = paellas), vindaloo (dishes/plates of vindaloo = vindaloos)
  3. Shades of colours: e.g. pink/pinks, scarlet/scarlets, grey/greys
  4. An instance of:
    • an action or process: e.g. genocide (act of genocide = genocides), lambing (an act of lambing = lambings)
    • a surgical operation: e.g. ablation/ablations
    • an emotion, pain, or feeling: e.g. backache/backaches, grief (an instance or cause of grief = griefs),
  5. An area of land of a specified type: e.g. bogland/boglands, terrain/terrains

Clearly these rules are quite ambiguous and some words have been allowed and disallowed at different times, e.g.


Adjective inflections

Countdown rules state:-

The rule of thumb for Countdown is that comparatives of all 2-syllable adjectives must be specified in the dictionary or they will not be allowed on the show. You’ll get used to what is acceptable and what isn't over a period of time – but in general, if it's not listed in the dictionary, it is not allowed – with ONE exception – and this is for 1-syllable adjectives like dark, cold, bleak. The dictionary doesn't list darker and darkest, colder and coldest etc, as we have a general rule that all 1-syllable adjectives can be extended in this way, and they are pretty obvious anyway, so there’s no need to take up space in the book.

However this rule is applied somewhat arbitrarily.

Allowed on apterous, may not be allowed on Countdown

  • BRUTER, BRUTEST (Assumed inflections of BRUT).


Passive verbs

Some verbs appear as headwords but with only the passive form specified, such as "lenite (be lenited)". It is not clear whether the other inflections are to be allowed, and in practice rulings have been inconsistent (e.g. REPUTING in Episodes 3938 and 5146). These are presently allowed on apterous.


American spellings

Countdown rules that American words are permitted, while American spellings are not. This occasionally causes issues because the ODE itself makes no such distinction, simply marking words as "US" in either case. Generally the distinction is obvious but sometimes it's debatable.

Allowed on Apterous, may not be allowed on Countdown

  • ASSHOLE (Considered US spelling of ARSEHOLE but has a recognisably different pronunciation in UK and US dialect).
  • BRINKSMANSHIP (Considered US spelling of BRINKMANSHIP which is obviously just nonsense.)
  • EDGEWISE (Marked as "US" for EDGEWAYS.)

Unknown rules

In some cases, the dictionary's intention is hard to discern.

  • WHOLIST(S): WHOLISM is given as "alternative spelling of HOLISM" but HOLISM does not list it. Therefore it is unclear whether the alternative spelling should carry over to the subentries of HOLISM, i.e. HOLIST(S).
  • CUMMINGS: The name of the poet e.e. cummings, given as lower case.
  • FARTHER is given as an alternative spelling of FURTHER, in the adjectival sense. The derived noun FURTHERER is also given in the same entry. Presumably this is derived from the verb and therefore FARTHERER is not intended, but this is never actually stated.
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