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Oxford Dictionaries Online

From Countdown
Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) is separate to Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE) and Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) are the source website dictionaries currently used for adjudication of words offered by the contestants in the letters games on Countdown. Supplied by the Oxford University Press, it comes in two versions: the 'Premium' version, Oxford Dictionaries Premium; and its 'free' version, branded as Lexico since June 2019. The Premium version can only be accessed via an annual subscription fee or a library card. The websites are used on a laptop in Dictionary Corner, which replaced the use of a print dictionary and pencam at the beginning of Series 70 in June 2014. The 3rd and last edition of the print dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE), is still part of the goody bag.

The lexicographer searches each contestant's word under the 'British English' section of Premium first. If their word is invalid, it is then searched under the 'UK Dictionary' section of the Lexico website; if it can be found in Lexico, then the word is accepted. Both websites operate a slightly different search logarithm.

The US English and US Dictionary sections are not used for adjudication. The UK Dictionary and US Dictionary sections were originally not separate in Lexico, but as of January 2020 this is no longer the case. As a result, one-word entries under the US sections which are otherwise specified as two separate words in UK sections (e.g. outearn ☓) are no longer allowed.

The British English section contains some entries from the US English dictionary in Premium, which are indicated by "Entry from US English Dictionary" underneath the phonetic spelling; an example of this is COQUI. These cannot be found under UK Dictionary in Lexico, but are still valid on Countdown. Premium is therefore more voluminous than Lexico.

Premium is also more accurate than Lexico, as it explicitly labels some mass nouns as a count noun (e.g. LOTION gives a [COUNT NOUN] sense in Premium and not in Lexico) and some verbs ending with -ING "as noun".

Unspecified redirections from searching words that link to other entries in the dictionary are also used for adjudication; when searches do redirect, only words specified on the page (and any sensible plurals and inflections) will be accepted (e.g. gammier ☓ and raviolo ☓ are invalid despite redirecting to GAMMY and RAVIOLI respectively).

ODO is an ever-expanding source which includes thousands of words, including inflections, variant spellings and loanwords borrowed from international English, most of which are derived from the US, Canada, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France and Italy.

Premium and Lexico are updated with thousands of new words each year (sometimes simultaneously). In order to keep in sync with both websites and Countdown rules, the Apterous website's facsimile of the dictionary is updated, approximately quarterly, by including and excluding words which would or would not be considered allowable on Countdown.

Dan McColm, the first series champion to be crowned in the ODO era, came up with very modern words included in the dictionary such as WHATEV, and in his last game of his octochamp run spotted that the conundrum BOBHOPTOM became PHOTOBOMB, a word that trended highly in 2014. Elliott Mellor, Luke Johnson-Davies and Sam Cappleman-Lynes have also been noted for finding obscure ODO words that could otherwise not be found in ODE nor in other dictionaries (both print and online).

How words are allowed

Any word declared by a contestant which has its own uncapitalised entry in bold in ODO are accepted. Subentries listed in bold underneath the headword are also accepted; these include variant spellings, plural forms of nouns, comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, and past/present tenses and participles of verbs. The declared word must not be an abbreviation nor a proper noun.

The following entries are not allowed:

  • hyphenated words (e.g. blue-wing ☓)
  • words containing an apostrophe (e.g. can't ☓)
  • any word that exists only with an initial capital letter (e.g. Kevlar ☓)
  • any word that appears only in combination (e.g. swatter ☓ is invalid as it only appears in 'fly swatter')

Spellings labelled US are American spellings, and these are also not allowed (e.g. color ☓). However, spellings labelled mainly US are allowed, as 'mainly' implies it can be used in the UK (e.g. DONUT).

Loanwords from worldwide English which have their own entry in ODO are allowed. Words from the US and North America are also allowed (e.g. FAUCET).

Accented words are allowed (e.g. BRULEE, written as 'brûlée' in the dictionary).

Singular forms of plural nouns are invalid (e.g. CRUDITES but no crudite ☓), and inflected forms of plurals that are the same as the singular are also invalid (e.g. SALMON but no salmons ☓).

Plural forms of entries which are only labelled [AS MODIFIER] in bold are also invalid (e.g. aminos ☓). Note that the juxtapositioning of the [AS MODIFIER] label is important here: if [AS MODIFIER] is adjacent to an example sentence, the plural is still valid, as the word can be independent or in combination (e.g. CHESNUTS). Entries labelled [WITH MODIFIER] (instead of [AS…] may take the plural (e.g. COUNTIAN, as in 'Sussex countians').

Abbreviations erroneously defined as "nouns" are omitted (e.g. psia ☓ is given as a noun, but is defined as 'Pounds per square inch absolute').

Italicised text underneath the definitions and sentences (e.g. Lewisia rediviva) is ignored.

Missing subentries

Not all headwords in ODO specify subentries, but any sensible and correctly-spelled inflections of headwords (see letters round rules) would be accepted. These would be judged based on usage in English.


For -MAN words specifically: the accepted plural of any gender-related noun ending in suffixes -MAN and -WOMAN would be -MEN and -WOMEN respectively (e.g. ORRAMAN has no specified plurals but ORRAMEN is assumed over orramans ☓); if it is not gender-related according to the definition, it would be -MANS (e.g. CAYMANS is assumed over caymen ☓).

NOTE: SANDMAN has no plural, because it's the sandman, so sandmans ☓ and sandmen ☓ are invalid.

For loanwords in English which are borrowed from a foreign language, Countdown (and Apterous) tries its best to accept any correct plurals where possible (there may be more than one plural). Hence, e.g., GENESES is assumed the plural of GENESIS, rather than genesises ☓, and HEDERS and HEDARIM are assumed the plurals of HEDER (a variant spelling of CHEDER).

For mass nouns: many of these may not take a plural (e.g. sedations ☓). If a word labelled as a [MASS NOUN] also has a [COUNT NOUN] label, which implies the noun has a countable sense, the plural would be accepted (e.g. EXERTIONS is valid as the singular has a count noun sense in Premium, albeit not in Lexico).

Not all mass nouns have specified count noun senses, but leeway may be given to accept plurals, based on their definitions. Since 2019, the following plurals have been accepted:

Nounal entries in ODO that are defined as alternative terms of uncountable mass nouns are also assumed not to take a plural (e.g. EBONITE is another term for VULCANITE, so ebonites ☓ is invalid).


If an adjective has two syllables or more, the inflected comparative and superlative forms must be specified to be allowed (e.g. the existence of SHOUTY, which has two syllables, does not mean shoutier ☓ nor shoutiest ☓ are valid as these are not specified).

If an adjective has one syllable, inflected comparatives and superlatives need not be specified to be allowed (e.g. LOUCHE has no subentries, but one can be the LOUCHER than the next person, or the LOUCHEST person).

Note: the comparative and superlative of GOOD are BETTER and BEST, rather than gooder ☓ and goodest ☓.


If a verb does not specify inflections, any sensible and correctly-spelled past and present tenses or participles would be accepted (e.g. EVADE has no subentries but EVADED and EVADING are valid, whereas evadeing ☓ is not).

For verbs with a prefix in front (including OUT-, RE- etc.): if inflections are not specified, then it can be assumed to take the same specified inflections as the corresponding root verb (e.g. REFOOT has no specified inflections but REFOOTED and REFOOTING are valid); if inflections are specified, only those will be ruled valid (e.g. the existence of SHINED does not mean outshined ☓ is valid, because OUTSHONE is the specified past and past participle of OUTSHINE).

-ISE or -IZE?

The -IZE spelling of verbs ending with -ISE is the Oxford spelling – it is not an Americanism – so these would typically be the spelled headword in ODO, and therefore allowed. Many of these word's pages also list -ISE as the British spelling, but this (and inflections) need not be specified to be allowed (e.g. MINORISED is valid as an alternative spelling of an inflected form of MINORIZE). The usage of -IZE spellings in British English date as far back as the 16th century.

Note: this rule does not apply vice versa; if the headword ends in -ISE, the -IZE spelling is invalid (e.g. advize ☓, advertize ☓ and surprize ☓ are not valid).

External Links

  • Oxford Dictionaries website [1]
  • Lexico Wikipedia page [2]