Any work that must be used as a standard by competitive Scrabble players (calling this group "dysfuctional" would be like calling a dead person "somewhat lethargic") is guaranteed to generate controversy. OSPD (and its frightening, bloated, British cousin, the Chambers dictionary) is certainly no exception.
But history first, and controversy second. The first edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary was published in 1978, in response to the growing tournament Scrabble scene and the need for a comprehensive (not to mention comprehensible) standard. The standard at the time was the Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary, which was frought with errors: foreign words like JA* and NYET* were included, while BUSLOAD, COVEN, and SURREAL were absent.
Clearly, something had to be done. Selchow & Righter, owner of Scrabble at the time, decided that in the new dictionary (which would be printed by Merriam-Webster), words found in at least one of these five dictionaries would be included: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eighth Edition (1973), Funk & Wagnalls (1973), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Dictionary (1969), Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition (1970), and The Random House College Dictionary (1968).
The compilation of the first OSPD was largely a volunteer effort, and the final product reflects this. Omissions (GRANOLA appeared in all five dictionaries, but was absent from the OSPD) and typos (CRESCIVE became CRESIVE*) were commonplace. It was apparent that a second edition of the OSPD would be required.
It would be impossible to limn the history of the OSPD2 without mentioning Joe Leonard. Joe scoured through the first OSPD (hardly an unusual activity for him; he has read through entire phone books for palindromic names, and through atlases for place names that contain exactly one of each vowel) and cross-checked it against the source dictionaries, finding a list of over two thousand omissions. As new editions of the source dictionaries were released, he pored over those too, recording changes. In 1989, he sent his list of 5,500 words to the National Scrabble Association, and they were incorporated into the 1991 OSPD2, although Joe was never (and still has not been) compensated or acknowledged.
Of no less import—but of much more detriment—to the current incarnation of the OSPD is Judith Grad, an art gallery owner from Virginia. Upon looking through the OSPD, she discovered the following entry:
JEW v. JEWED, JEWS, JEWING to bargain with—an offensive term
Grad's middle-class sensibilities were outraged. She discovered even more "offensive" terms in the OSPD (KIKE, NIGGER, SPIC) and was "livid," according to an interview with a local newspaper: "It's a game. These words have no business in a dictionary used to support a game," she huffed. She wrote letters to Merriam-Webster and Milton-Bradley, who owned Scrabble at the time, but received a less than enthusiastic response—M-W replied that "[the]slurs are part of the language and reputable dictionaries record them as such," and M-B said that "as a dictionary, it is a reflection of words currently used in our language." Still miffed, Grad sent letters to the usual suspects, including the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but to no avail. She finally caught the ear of the National Council of Jewish Women, who in turn provoked the ire of the ADL, and after harassing the chairman of Hasbro (parent company of Milton-Bradley), Alan Hassfeld, he agreed (without consulting the NSA or M-W) to excise the OSPD.
The Scrabble community, to the surprise of no one, was livid. Not only would removing "offensive" words not solve anything (argued the anti-expurgationists), but the subjectivity of the task was so enormous as to be nearly impossible. Nonetheless, John D. Williams, president of the NSA, had his hands tied, and eventually reached a compromise (after receiving a mass of hate mail and threats of tournament boycotts from players): the OSPD3 (sneeringly referred to by some as the ESPD, or Expurgated Scrabble Players Dictionary) would be rid of the 167 "offensive" words, and would bear the label "for recreational and school play." A separate word list (the Official Word List, or OWL) would include the words, albeit with no definitions.
Another battle is raging on the Scrabble front: the question of "ours vs. theirs," or of the Official Scrabble Words (OSW) vs. the OWL. The OSW is the list of choice in Britain, while American, Canadian, and Israeli players use the OWL. Increasingly, however, British players use both lists, a standard called SOWPODS (an amalgamate of the letters OSW and OSPD). The difficutly, therefore, arises when American players enter world tournaments, which increasingly use SOWPODS, and must therefore learn the over 40,000 words unique to the British list. If these words were all legitimitate, argues the anti-SOWPODS camp, that would be one thing, but they're not, and often farcically so: UFO#, CH# (an obsolete English dialect for "I"), THEGITHER# (Scottish for "together"). The American book has its share of silly inclusions, such as KUVASZ$, defined as "a large dog with a white coat," but the simple fact remains that SOWPODS contains 35% more words in the two- to eight-letter range than OWL, and learning all of them—especially when so many of them are ridiculous—is a bitter pill for American players to take.
Fatsis, Stefan. Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. 2001. New York: Houghton-Mifflin Company.