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Recently, I've noticed that the NY-Times Wordle game accepts the word "muist" as a five-letter word attempt. But what does it mean and where does it come from?

I've searched online and I stumbled upon a few scrabble-oriented resources that strongly indicate the word is a valid scrabble word (I assume the word is accepted by Wordle because the game imported some word list used for scrabble).

The meaning and origin of the word still remain unclear. scrabble-solver.com defines it as "to powder" and following that lead I came upon an entry in a Scots dictionary that seems to define it similarly. So one hypothesis is that it's a Scots word.

However, the Collins Scrabble Dictionary website has an "Official Word Checker" tool which, for this word only says "See must", suggesting it is an alternative spelling of "must".

According to scrabblewordsolver.com, the Collins dictionary is the only one that lists this word.

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    The term appears to have different meanings, for instance: Muist is a Korean shamanistic religion that was the dominant religion among the Korean people before the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Protestantism into Korea and parts of Manchuria.
    – Gio
    May 22 at 7:36
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    Compare: Words with Friends disallows almost all abbreviations (maybe VIP). Then defines a word like id as short for 'identification'. Must be that the definition comes up from one source while the allowed word (Freud's word) is not defined. May 22 at 11:36
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    More context on the use in Wordle: the author of the game is Josh Wardle, who goes by powerlanguage on GitHub. He doesn't have an official Wordle repository there, but there is code for something called "Guess My Word". It uses a Scrabble wordlist last updated in 2018, and the word list itself (not limited to 5-letter words) includes "muist", "muisted", "muisting", and "muists".
    – TylerW
    May 22 at 16:04
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    ...and the word list file itself is called sowpods.txt, which refers to the former name for the Collins Scrabble Words dictionary. So it seems like Collins is indeed the source for the use of muist in Wordle (as a variant of the verb must).
    – TylerW
    May 22 at 16:11
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    @TinfoilHat it's valid in the Collins official word checker: collinsdictionary.com/games/scrabble/word-finder. I'd 100% take your bet. Based on this and my previous notes above, muist is clearly not a typo and should be found in the hard copy of the CSW dictionary.
    – TylerW
    May 23 at 3:06

3 Answers 3

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According to John Jameson, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808), there is (or was) a word spelled muist in Scottish:

MUIST, MUST, s. Musk, Border. [Cited examples:] Thy smell was fell, and stronger than muist. Montgomerie, Watson's Coll. iii. 2. Redolent odour vp from the rutis sprent, / —Aromaticke gummes, or ony fyne potioun ; / Must, myr, aloyes, or confectioun. Doug. Virgil, Prol. 401. 43.

And adding to that entry, Jameson, A Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1825) offers this further note:

MUIST, MUST, s. Musk, S.} Add :—Hence, MUIST-BOX, s. A box for smelling at, a musk-box. [Cited example:] "I'll tell you news, Sirs, I carry a little muist-box (which is the word of God) in my bosom, and when I meet with the ill air of ill company, that's like to gar me swarf, I besmell myself with a sweet savour of it, and with the name of God, which is as ointment poured out." Mich. Bruce's Lect. &c. p. 68.

On the other hand, James Murray, A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (1908)—the original OED—has only this entry for muist:

MUIST, variant of MUST Obs., musk.

Presumably, if the Scottish word muist ever was in common or occasional use in south-of-the-border English, it fell out of use when the risk that the ill air of ill company would gar one swarf ceased to be so great that well-prepared travelers had to carry a muist-box with them as an emergency source of counter-odors.

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    It seems unlikely that Wordle would use a spelling of "musk" that was common only in the 18th and 19th centuries in Scotland as an answer.
    – Greybeard
    May 22 at 11:24
  • Re: "Scottish (meaning Scottish English, not Gaelic)": This is a bit tricky. Scots is a language closely related to Modern English (it split off during the Middle English period), separate from Scottish English. An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language seems to be about Scots -- it regards Scottish as a separate language -- though it's possible that Jamieson didn't draw the same distinction we do today, and would regard both Scots and Scottish English as "Scottish".
    – ruakh
    May 22 at 19:09
  • @ruakh: Thanks for addressing this point. I am way out of my depth on that topic and appreciate the clarification. I will remove "meaning Scottish English" from my answer if the terminology is inaccurate.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 22 at 21:17
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    @Greybeard The word "muist" isn't in Wordle's answer list, so it will never occur as the answer, but it is in the guess list, so people are allowed to guess it. May 23 at 1:41
  • @TannerSwett - thanks. However, I don't think it makes much difference as all Wordle entries must be "dictionary" words (rather than regional variants.)
    – Greybeard
    May 23 at 10:41
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The Scottish trail for “muist” appears to be the more interesting one: from “Dictionaries of the Scots Language”:

†MUIST, n., v. Also must; moust, moost.

I - n. 1. Musk (s.Sc. 1808 Jam.), in comb. muist-ball, a perforated ball containing musk or perfume.

  • Sc. 1734 J. Spotiswood Hope's Practicks 538: A Silver Muist-ball.

2 - Hair powder or flour used as a substitute for this (Sc. 1808 Jam.). Adj. mousty, moostie, powdered.

  • Sc. 1796 Scots Mag. (Nov.) 770: I think ye [a hairdresser] might exemption make, For the young bonny lasses sake, Nor moost nor guinea frae them take. Gsw. 1797 J. Strang Gsw. Clubs (1856) 583: Diel's in the worrie-cow! Is he gaun to pollute my hail kirn o' milk wi' his ill-faured greasy gab and moosty pash? Dmf. 1836 A. Cunningham Lord Roldan III. xi.: Thae carles [priests] wi' the mousty heads and wide sark sleeves, and curious cloaks.

II.- v. To apply hair powder, to powder a wig. Ppl.adj. muisted, mousted, moostet (Gsw. 1807 J. Chirrey Misc. Poetry 103), powdered.

  • Sc. 1761 Magopico (1810) 33: What's that you laugh at, you there with the moosted twa-tailed wig and the lang ruffles? Edb. 1795 The Complaint 5: Nae mair the pu'pit maun he speel, Wi' head well muisted owr wi' meal. Sc. 1816 Scott Antiquary x.: Would ye creesh his bonny brown hair wi' your nasty ulyie, and then moust it like the auld minister's wig? Sc. 1827 C. I. Johnstone Eliz. de Bruce I. iii.: It matters little . . . whether the idol of the vain unsanctified heart be a tea-cup, a weel-mousted periwig, or the fair face of an enticing maiden.

[O.Sc. moist, 1488, must, 1513, must, O.Fr. must, variant of musc, musk.]

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The OED has no entry for "muist" but has mu, noun3 and interjection.

Etymology: < Japanese mu nothingness (13th cent.; 1603 in Vocabulario da Lingoa de Iapam), use as noun of mu nothing (especially in conventional sayings), no, not, (as prefix) un-, without, -less < Middle Chinese (compare Chinese (Cantonese) mòuh , Chinese (Mandarin) wú no, not, nothing). Compare mushin n., no-decision n. (b) at no adj. Compounds 4.

Zen Buddhism.

A. n.3 A state of voidness, nothingness, or detachment which is thought to transcend the concepts of negative and positive.

1960 B. Leach Potter in Japan x. 222 Appreciation of the meaning of ‘Mu’, or unattachment, deeply imbedded in Taoism, Buddhism and ever present in Zen-inspired arts and crafts.

B. int. Used as an alternative to answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, in order to reject the validity of the question. rare.

1934 N. Senzaki & P. Reps Gateless Gate 9 A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen Master: ‘Has a dog Buddha-nature, or not?’ Joshu answered ‘Mu.’

I suspect that a Muist follows the pattern of Calvanist, communist, etc. as one who follows the philosophy of "mu" and/or pracises "mu".

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    That was also my first guess when reading the question. But I don't know of a source to back-up the claim that "muist" does come from "mu". In addition, Wordle rejects the word "muism". "Calvinist", "communist", etc., usually have a counterpart in -ism.
    – Stef
    May 22 at 17:23

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