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It seems self-evident to me, but in the heat of a Scrabble game (no surprise), my opponent claimed that "sh" was a word. I think it's a diphthong, but the printed dictionary definition of "word" didn't resolve the issue.

I know that Scrabble-related questions on this site are generally regarded as infra dig, but the event really did cause me to wonder what truly qualifies as a "word" and what doesn't.

[I also understand that this question sits just atop the divide between meaning and orthography, but hey, whtvr.]

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closed as not constructive by FumbleFingers, StoneyB, PLL, MετάEd, tchrist Jan 17 '13 at 1:29

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You could look up sh instead. Looks legit to me. – Kit Z. Fox Jan 16 '13 at 15:09
sh! mmm, hmm? – coleopterist Jan 16 '13 at 15:11
No one can give a ruling as to if something is a word, in absolute terms. Depending on context, those strings of characters listed in 'the lexicon' (standard dictionaries?) may be considered words for general English usage purposes. Scrabble, on the other hand, has its own set of standard references for what it considers legitimate words. – Kris Jan 16 '13 at 15:39
Also, not a diphthong. – Jeff Jan 16 '13 at 16:37
What is the second letter of the English alphabet? What letter often represents a percentage score of 80-89? What's the first letter of the words 'bee'? The word 'B' may not be acceptable in Scrabble, but it's definitely a word. 'nth' is probably the most commonly used example of a vowel-less word – barrycarter Jan 16 '13 at 18:43

Sh has entries in the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb, a noun and an interjection. The letters S and H do not constitute a diphthong. Rather, they represent the consonant /ʃ/.

Word is difficult to define satisfactorily, but it is determined as much by its syntactical function as by its form and meaning. The definition in ‘The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language’ is as good as any:

The smallest unit of grammar that can stand alone as a complete utterance, separated by spaces in written language and potentially by pauses in speech.

These conditions can be satisfied even when a word is not in any dictionary.

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Plus, Scrabble is a game, with its own rules and definitions. Generalized dictionary definitions are always trumpable by specialized local idiomatic uses and definitions. Rules can be changed locally, of course; but it's the game rules that count, not the dictionary. – John Lawler Jan 16 '13 at 18:16
[Take 2] Thanks, Barry, I think the "smallest unit ... that serves a syntactical function" is the most serviceable definition I'll end up finding here. I was originally looking for guidance that superseded Scrabble (I regret using the game as a metonym -the rules of that croft are irrelevant to my question), Czech, Cymric, onamatopoeia, "look it up, fool" answers, and whtvr the web dishes up. Thanks, all. – fortunate1 Jan 17 '13 at 0:09

As general, there are words without vowels, but with consonants functioning as a vovel, such as r in famous Czech sentence: Strč prst skrz krk

Because human languages tend to copy from each other, it is possible that such words would be sooner or later imported into English.

Many pronouns in many languages are single-letter words (such as w, z in Polish).

So we can definitely call something a word if it has no vowels. It would be possible to define something as "English word" stating that because there's no word in English that has vowels we can state that word must have at least one vowel, but it would be too artificial.

"Sh" could be classified as exclamation or onomatopoeia, so it's up to scrabble rules to define if such words are legal or not. Accepting one-letter words in Polish, for example, would make no sense for scrabble although they are fully legal words.

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Here is a word without a vowel: cwn

Source: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/c%C5%B5n

Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_words_without_vowels

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In Welsh words like cwn and cwm, I would argue that w is a vowel. – barrycarter Jan 16 '13 at 18:40
When I was in school, we were taught that the vowels are a, e, i, o, u and "sometimes y and w". – Jay Feb 4 '13 at 19:12
And sometimes u is consonant – James A Mohler Mar 22 '13 at 21:14

To answer your question, I would say "YES!" As far as "sh" is concerned, the dictionary says it is an interjection used to urge silence. An interjection is a word or phrase expressive of emotion. So it is a word by that definition.

Another example is the word, "By". It is a two letter word without a vowel. Definition

Here is the Dictionary.com definition of "word".

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There are plenty of english words that have no vowels: rhythm, crypt and flyby to name a few. In the vast majority of cases, the y acts as a vowel. The exceptions are usually interjections: hmm, hmph, psst


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Well, I think "y" would be called a vowel in your first three examples, so the words do have a vowel. – Jay Feb 4 '13 at 19:13

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