Dek: It’s really a judgment call, but it makes solvers hyper-aware of their own familiarity with other languages.
Here's an international crossword mystery: When does a foreign word require a hint as to its origin in the clue, and when can you leave the language indicator off? Let’s look at some examples from last week’s crossword puzzles.
23-Down in Wednesday's puzzle was NYET, clued as [Moscow "no"] with "Moscow" tipping you off that the answer was in Russian. So far, so good. But then 18-Down in Thursday's puzzle was OEUVRE, clued simply as [Body of Work]. No tip-off that it's a French word! What's up with that?
Answer: it's a judgment call, depending on how familiar the foreign-language word will be to American audiences. "Nyet" is virtually never used in American English to indicate "no," but the French "oeuvre" is seen reasonably often in English-language texts as a synonym for one's "body of work," so no indicator was used.
There were a few other similar judgment calls around foreign words last week. Did you catch them? WASABI was an easy one on Tuesday, clued simply as [Paste on a sushi plate]. There's no other word in English for wasabi, and it's very familiar, so no language-of-origin indicator was needed.
OLE on Thursday had no indicator, either, though sometimes crossword constructors will hint that it's a Spanish-language term. It's not used nearly as often in English as the similar "bravo" or "brava," so sometimes the nudge toward Spanish is given.
TATA in Sunday's puzzle was a borderline case. It's more of a British term than an American one, so a U.K. hint could've been given here. But it was a Sunday, the toughest day of the week, so I decided to leave it off. With a word like LOO (for "bathroom") that's almost never used in American English except jocularly, an indicator would usually be given in a clue.
Got a mot juste you'd like to see in a grid? Tweet it to #beastxword and que será, será.
Play today’s puzzle and sign up for our weekly crossword newsletter on the bottom of the puzzle page.