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"Uzi" is not contained in any Scrabble® dictionary that I can find online. I am assuming that the Scrabble® powers that be are treating it as a proper noun. However, after reading the Wikipedia article on the Uzi, I do not understand why it would be a proper noun. Here is the description from Wikipedia:

The Uzi (Hebrew: עוזי, officially cased as UZI) /ˈuːzi/ (About this soundlisten) is a family of Israeli open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine guns....The first Uzi submachine gun was designed by Major Uziel Gal in the late 1940s.

To summarize, "uzi" is not a brand name, does not refer to a specific gun (it refers to a class of weapons), and does not refer to a specific manufacturer. The name is derived from a specific person, but does not refer to him. Why is this a proper noun?!

I understand that Uzi is often capitalized, but I don't understand why it should be. Furthermore, the official scrabble rules dictate that "words always capitalized" are not permitted. So another way of posing the question is this: is it permissible to write "uzi" (instead of "Uzi")? If not, why not?

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    Apparently, it is a trademark [JUSTIA trademarks] . Genericise at your own peril (Biro only bring court actions if you use a lower case 'B'). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 8 '19 at 15:53
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    The full (subscription-only) OED entry for (capitalised) Uzi says Etymology: Shortened - the name of Uziel Gal, Israeli army officer. Used attributively or absol. to designate an Israeli type of sub-machine gun designed by Uziel Gal. That sure looks like a "proper noun" to me, and it seems like pointless hair-splitting to come up with reasons why it might not be. And I certainly wouldn't let you play it in a game of Scrabble against me (purely because it's capitalised, ignoring any more detailed arguments). – FumbleFingers Sep 8 '19 at 16:06
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    Are you really asking for the reason why the Hasbro Gaming company does not include the word in its official Scrabble® word list, or are you instead asking about the word’s use, spelling, history, trademark status, or capitalization? – tchrist Sep 8 '19 at 16:07
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    @tchrist: I'm one of a very small number of people who've been granted access to a machine-readable copy of OSW (to use in software-powered word puzzle generators). But my file was for OSW V1, so I did have to add a few words from later editions of Chambers (their original "reference" dictionary). My understanding was we didn't include any words starting with a capital letter or ending with a period - nobody ever specifically said "proper nouns" or "abbreviations" were exactly and only what we should ignore. – FumbleFingers Sep 8 '19 at 16:15
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    I just want to chime in that "Uzi" is the most common nickname for the first name "Uziel," like "Ben" for "Benjamin." "Uzi" is not merely some word derived from Uziel Gal's name but is his actual name, is what people actually called him. That said, I do see what you're saying. I mean, it is acceptable to spell "john" with a lowercase J when it's used as a noun for a toilet even though the word is actually the name of its inventor, John Harrington. But then I have also seen "uzi" written with a lowercase U, so. You know, maybe Scrabble dictionaries aren't the great English authority. – Benjamin Harman Sep 9 '19 at 2:20
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Why is Uzi capitalized? It comes from a name, and people haven't frequently used it in lowercase in publication.

First, the name is derived from a person's name. These usually retain their capitalization. For example, we have:

  • Tommy gun, or the Thompson submachine gun, for inventor John T. Thompson (Wikipedia)
  • Molly or Molotov cocktail, in mockery of Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (Wikipedia)
  • The Luger, for inventor Georg Luger (Wikipedia)

Even though they come in multiple models and forms, the type of weapon retains the capitalization of the name, even if it's not also the name of the manufacturer.

Furthermore, Uzi hasn't generalized to the point of being lowercase, like some other products. For example, we have:

  • diesel, in diesel fuel and diesel engines, for inventor Rudolf Diesel (Wikipedia)
  • leotard, for performer Jules Léotard (Wikipedia)
  • voltaic pile, for physicist Alessandro Volta (Wikipedia)

Popularity makes lowercase more likely, but shifts in usage are arbitrary and vary between individual words. For instance, Ferris wheels are well-known, but the name retains the capitalization.

With Uzi, too, the capitalization remains: in a News on the Web Corpus search, among 2226 results for "uzi," virtually all results are "Uzi." Only 31 of the first thousand results were lowercase. So it will be a while before one can build an argument for "Uzi" being a valid Scrabble word.

  • So people can start convincing everyone to not capitalize Uzi, maybe losing a few points in writing essays at school and whatnot, until it can be used in Scrabble. – user353675 Sep 8 '19 at 17:29
  • if you want to try that, why don't we just not capitalize scrabble? :) – TaliesinMerlin Sep 8 '19 at 18:22
  • If there were enough Scrabble knock-offs that could happen I guess, or if people start making their own scrabble boards. – user353675 Sep 8 '19 at 18:27
  • Excellent!! So “uzi” is not capitalized around 3-5 percent of the time in modern English usage. It certainly cannot be argued that “uzi” is always capitalized— even if it is typically capitalized (for good reason). I can only take this to mean that “uzi” is a valid scrabble word, and I should have won this game! – tooAnnoying Sep 9 '19 at 13:23
  • @tooAnnoying It would still depend on what dictionary you were using. I read "words always capitalized" in reference to the dictionary entry - is it "diesel" and "Diesel," or just "Ferris wheel"? (Merriam-Webster). If I used M-W, "diesel" would be fair, but "Ferris wheel" and "Uzi" wouldn't. I would not allow corpus evidence in a game of Scrabble because it is exceedingly nebulous - how do I know that the results aren't typos? Why am I suddenly going beyond the agreed-upon dictionary? That's the path of pedantry. – TaliesinMerlin Sep 9 '19 at 13:54
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Proper noun or not, this is an item that borrows its name from a person. That person's name is capitalized, therefore the item named after him is likewise capitalized.

Similarly, you would capitalize baked Alaska. Even when the leading b is not capitalized, the A is usually capitalized in print. Also, steak Diane and veal Oscar. In the linked article, the LA Times has chosen not to capitalize veal.

Similarly, the machine gun is referred to as an Uzi submachine-gun rather than Uzi Submachine-Gun. Note the lack of capitalization of the full name of the gun type. The required capitalization is due to attribution to a name.

If Scrabble has chosen to outlaw capitalized words or proper nouns, Uzi fits both bills by default. Uzi as a standalone word is always capitalized as it's a man's name. Uzi when used for a shortened version of Uzi submachine-gun, is not a proper noun, but it's capitalized nonetheless for reasons above.

  • They outlaw capitalized words. According to your answer, it would fit this definition. It does not fit the definition of a proper noun in the sense that it does not actually refer to Uziel Gal, it refers to a general collection of guns. – tooAnnoying Sep 8 '19 at 16:51
  • @tooAnnoying Uzi submachine-gun is not a proper noun. Uzi is. It's a dude's name. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 16:51
  • Uzi is not a dude's name-- look at the definition! Uziel Gal is a dude's name. "Uzi" is a name for a general collection of guns whose name is derived from Uziel Gal. – tooAnnoying Sep 8 '19 at 16:54
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    @tooAnnoying By that logic Dave is not a name, either. Uziel Gal would be called Uzi by friends just like I'm called Dave. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 16:56
  • @David M the question is really whether it's capitalized in common usage. Or would you argue that it's wrong if someone writes that they are 'going to use the john'? Because a quick internet search shows that people don't always capitalize john, even though it's because of someone named John. – user353675 Sep 8 '19 at 17:05
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Uzi is named after its creator Uziel Gal AND is an acronym.

How can it be possible?

As I've discovered during my research, Uziel Gal's real name was Gotthard Glas. He changed his name to Uziel at a point in his life. When he designed the submachine gun, he did not want the weapon to be named after him but his request was ignored.

There is another source which states that "Uzi" is an abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase "God is my might."

Unfortunately, I can't find a source in English which connects these two facts. However, I've stumbled upon an article in Russian which states that the gun manufacturer ignored Gal's request specifically because it is also an abbreviation.

I don't know how credible these sources are, but it can be an explanation why Uzi can be capitalized.

Also, keep in mind that there are no capital or lowercase letters in Hebrew alphabet (as in many other alphabets, though; in fact, I think Latin script is one of only four writing systems of the world where such distinction exists!), so "Uzi", "uzi" and "UZI" are written in the same way in Hebrew and that can influence the way it's written in English.

  • Sort of. Psalms 59:18 does have the variant עֻזִּי (’uzzi) for “My strength.” The context is, “My Strength, I will sing praises to you, for God is my fortress.” Isaiah 12:2 says, in part, “God is my strength and my song,” but the word used there for “my strength” is pronounced like Ozzie. – Davislor Sep 9 '19 at 3:33
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    The name Uziel itself means “God is my strength.” The claim that Uzi is an abbreviation for “God is my strength” might therefore just mean it’s short for Uziel. – Davislor Sep 9 '19 at 3:33
  • עזי is not an acronym, at least, not that I know of. The first letter could be the initial of a word for might/strength, and the last could be the initial of a name of God, but Hebrew uses the zero copula, so the middle letter would not fit. – Davislor Sep 9 '19 at 3:43
  • If your argument based on Hebrew script was valid, the capital city of israel would be jerusalem. – alephzero Sep 9 '19 at 12:57
  • @alephzero Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, whether it currently is the capital of the state of Israel or not is irrelevant for that. – jwenting Sep 10 '19 at 5:40
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There are legal considerations and there are linguistic considerations as to whether a brand name can be used as a generic common noun.

Whether it is possible to 'brand' what is not a brand name and insist it only be used with initial capital letters is a legal, not a linguistic usage question. That would better be answered elsewhere.

There are good reasons for not using brand names generically if you are in the UK civil service, as I once was. In published papers or report, we are strictly forbidden to write 'power point' or even 'Power Point' in a public document, even though it became a 'household' expression. This was for the good reason that government officials and the government itself must not promote or remotely even seem to be promoting a commercial product. That is a very good reason, but again, not relevant to the rules for capitalisation.

The convention is for brand names to be capitalised. So we buy a Ford Fiesta rather than a ford or a ford fiesta. But there are obvious exceptions, of which the hoover is one, which has even become a verb. Another is fibreglass which was once a brand name of the company that invented it; another is the filofax. We buy cheddar cheese in lower case, even when we have bought it from the Cheddar Valley.

This is a very interesting limiting case for language usage. Fifty years ago, most of what came into the public domain was managed by some sort of editorial process, which enabled some sort of rules to apply a measure of consistency in a matter like this. Publishers of journals, government papers even major company publications, as well, of course, as books, were subject to some form of checks, often subject to style guides of some form or other. The balance of control over the past 25 years or so has been rapidly swinging away to the individual writer, sometimes edited, often not.

We have to ask whether there is any reason for trying to 'restandardise' usage (if it was ever standardised in the first place). By reason I mean pressure of circumstances or consequences to render it likely that people act consistently in this regard. It is difficult to see what that would be.

If there is a common principle, it is probably that where someone thinks of something as a 'generic' or 'household' thing, they will write it with a lower case initial letter; if they think of it as a branded product, they will use an initial capital.

You write uzi, I write Uzi; you write mercedes, I write Mercedes: let's call the whole thing off.

  • This is really discussion not an answer to the question. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 17:25
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    To David M: I do not agree, though I understand your point. My answer, David, is that there can not be a satisfactory answer to the question, and this follows from what discussions of usage are about. I do not think that the conditions exist or are likely to exist in which the matter can be settled, beyond the general probability that where people think of something as a branded product, a (perhaps the) majority will use an initial capital, whereas, where they think of it as an appliance or generic substance, they will use lower case. – Tuffy Sep 8 '19 at 17:34
  • I didn't say I didn't like it. But, it seems a bit philosophical compared to an answer about the usage of capitalization in this specific case. Perhaps rephrase the salient points so they point to the usage of the term Uzi vs uzi. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 17:38
  • Relevant example of genericisation: the derringer. Once upon a time the Philadelphia Deringer was a specific firearm made by Henry Deringer, but since then "derringer" (sic) has become a generic term for a specific kind of firearm regardless of manufacturer. By contrast, "Uzi" is still associated with a specific manufacturer and its licensees. – Geoffrey Brent Sep 9 '19 at 1:27
  • Uzi is not associated with with a specific manufacturier and is not a brand name. The above discussion, while of some interest to read, does not really apply. – tooAnnoying Sep 9 '19 at 4:05
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Uzi is a noun listed in OED. Browning is also listed as a noun in the OED

Used attributively or absol. to designate an Israeli type of sub-machine gun designed by Uziel Gal.

As in:

1981 C. R. Lajeunesse Dead Man Running Cyril was cut in two by bullets from Weasel's Uzi.

When I play scrabble, I use multiple dictionaries.

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    @tchrist - not in my family! – lbf Sep 8 '19 at 16:15
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    This does not really explain why it is a proper noun, as it refers to a general set of guns. All this does is provide the etymology (which I already provided in the question). I am trying to understand why this abbreviation is considered a proper noun (if it really is at all). – tooAnnoying Sep 8 '19 at 16:15
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    "Browning" is not, but "browning" is, formed from "to brown," meaning "to make brown," as in "browning bread." Ooh! The official dictionary has it as a noun, so it can be pluralized. – shoover Sep 8 '19 at 16:41
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    @tooAnnoying - Basically, what I'm saying is there's a definite case to be made that spelling "uzi" with a lowercase U should be an acceptable word in Scrabble under the basic rules of Scrabble. However, saying there is justification to spell it with a lowercase U is not saying that there is no justification to spell it with an uppercase U, because there is plenty of justification to do that. – Benjamin Harman Sep 9 '19 at 2:35

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