I edit a lot of writing on the topic of cue sports, like pool and billiards. The word "playability" comes up a lot.

For example, if one is trying to explain that a pool cue is excellent in feel and performance, one might say: "My new custom pool cue has great playability."

I don't believe "playability" is a word, and if that is the case, what could be used in its place?

A similar example is the word "drivability" which I believe was invented by marketers in the 1970's to describe how well a car drives.

Both of these are commonly not found in spell checking dictionaries so I want to check here for whether or not they are legitimate in general writing.

  • How about My new cue has great ergonomics. In my experience though, pool / tennis players and fencers tend to praise the balance of their great new cues, rackets, and swords. – FumbleFingers Feb 27 '16 at 18:25
  • Yes, the writers use the word "playability" to describe the overall level of the item's ergonomics, balance, etc. (and other features) – GWR Feb 27 '16 at 18:40
  • Well, you say they do, but it's not a usage I'm familiar with in the context of things like pool cues. Just as I see there are several written instances of has good ergonomics where the thing being written about is a gun, but all these half-dozen references to good shootability seem to be about some highly domain-specific attribute of concrete mixes. – FumbleFingers Feb 27 '16 at 19:01
  • Wines are said to have "drinkability". – TRomano Feb 27 '16 at 20:46
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    @robarwebservices: Well, playability has been around for centuries with the sense of "relatively easy to play" (of a musical score or instrument), and it was quickly taken up for the modern console/computer game context. All of those seem natural to me, since we do actually play pieces of music, keyboards, games, etc. But we don't normally "play" a cue (we use it to play pool/snooker), so superficially it's not such a good fit - but the fact that in thousands of contexts you don't regularly see some other term being used suggests to me that no such term exists. – FumbleFingers Feb 28 '16 at 14:15

Both 'playability' and 'drivability' are legitimate words and work perfectly fine in general writing (already well-accepted in their specific sports areas).

  • spellcheckers have errors, both bad entries, those that won't be recognized by most people, and missing entries, those that would be recognized by most but aren't in the list.
  • spellcheckers mostly work by finite lists, but there are many more words that can legitimately created by adding suffixes on to them that aren't (yet?) listed in a dictionary. Of course some legitimate suffix-adding rules just don't work because there is an existing word that suffices (eg 'friendness' is not a word because 'friendship' already does).
  • 'playability' is in some online dictionaries (see the Free Dictionary or dictionary.com; don't trust wiktionary, people will put anything in there)
  • similarly with 'drivability'
  • Google ngrams seems to confirm that 'drivability' began its more common usage in the '60s

Wordness (that doesn't sound much like a word but it'll do for now) is pretty slippery near the boundary. Both these words are well on the acceptable side.


Some (perhaps rightly) consider Wiktionary as less authoritative than say AHDEL, Collins, M-W ... The word is given there (with two senses):

playability ‎(usually uncountable, plural playabilities)

[1] The state or property of being playable.

[2] A measure of either the ease by which a video game may be played, or of the overall quality of its gameplay

Mutant Chickens from Mars has great graphics, but the playability is lacking.

The usage you mention is a transparent extension (no pun intended) of the second sense, but probably still needs 'scare quotes' as not quite having been accepted fully into the lexicon (whatever that is).

New words and new senses often appear in particular domains, and if the domains are not too abstruse, can catch on quickly. Dictionary.com does mention the noun, but not which sense/s it considers acceptable.

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