The Word "Zen" in Scrabble

Scrabble Zen

Scrabble players love their three-letter words. These mini units of language are the building blocks of any good Scrabble strategy, and players memorize long lists of three-letter words to help build that strategy.

The list of three-letter Scrabble words containing “z” is short, just twenty-four three-letter words containing the letter “z” are legal plays. That’s why arguments and fights often break out around the Scrabble board when a player attempts to use their “z” to form the three-letter word “Zen.”

Is “Zen” Legal in Scrabble?

Put simply–no. Zen is a proper noun, being the name of a specific branch of Buddhism, and as a proper noun it is not a legal play. Of course, you could always try looking it up in the Scrabble dictionary just to be sure–and you’d find the same answer. The word “Zen” is not a legal play in Scrabble.

Arguments for Including Zen in Scrabble

There are two basic reasons why people think the word “Zen” should be included in Scrabble, and they’re both fairly weak arguments.

First, there’s the argument that says that Zen isn’t always used as a proper noun. For instance, you may have a “Zen garden” that is actually a garden inspired by Zen Buddhism, rather than one that is grown according to the strict guidelines of Zen Buddhism. Since it isn’t technically a “Zen garden”, it might be considered a “zen garden.” Remove the capitalization and you remove the state of the word as a proper noun.

The other argument is similar–Americans use the word “zen” as an adjective all the time, and whether this is right or wrong (by the way–it’s wrong) the word “zen” should be considered not a proper noun. Consider the sentence–”I concentrate on my breathing when I’m on a plane experiencing turbulence, it’s a zen thing.” This usage isn’t appropriate, but it certainly isn’t a proper noun. This is the age-old “usage” vs “dictionary” argument that Scrabble fans have been having for decades, and I somehow don’t think that “zen” will finally be the word that breaks tradition.

Some people even go so far as to say the word is just another descriptive adjective / noun like “cool” or “hip.” Again, you can make this argument until you’re blue in the face, but you won’t find the word in the Scrabble dictionary, and you won’t be allowed to play the word.

What to Do With “Zen” in Scrabble

So you’ve been dealt the tiles Z, E, and N. Since you can’t simply score with “Zen”, consider using it as an ending. Look at this awesome list of words ending in “zen”, all Scrabble-legal:

  • Deepfrozen
  • Noncitizen
  • Nonfrozen
  • Outbrazen
  • Prefrozen
  • Refrozen
  • Unfrozen
  • Bedizen
  • Chazzen
  • Citizen
  • Denizen
  • Netizen
  • Brazen
  • Frozen
  • Khazen
  • Mizzen
  • Wizzen
  • Cozen
  • Dizen
  • Dozen
  • Mizen
  • Wizen
  • Zazen

Finding the tiles Z, E, and N in your next Scrabble game shouldn’t turn into an argument. The word “Zen” is not a legal play in Scrabble, and you can actually make a much nicer set of words with those tiles than the obvious choice of “Zen.”

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