Using "Qi" and "Za" in Scrabble

person playing a q in scrabble

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

You heard it here: the Chinese word qi is found as a noun in English dictionaries and it's a valid Scrabble word, too. Za? Well, that's slang for one of America's favorite foods, also a noun in the dictionary and strategy used to win Scrabble games. When the two-letter words "qi" and "za" were added to the official Scrabble dictionary, the change led some Scrabble players to say the game's scoring system needs an overhaul. But they were there to stay, and given the high point potential for any word involving a "q" or a "z," players had to adjust their tactics.

"Qi" and "za" were some of the 3,300 words added to the fourth edition of the official Scrabble dictionary in 2006. As such, you might not think they are acceptable if you are using an older printed copy of the dictionary. Using them in a game might also lead to a dispute as to what they mean. Here's the full history and definitions of these two words so you can be prepared to defend your position.

people playing scrabble
The Spruce / Theresa Chiechi

Qi: Scrabble Word and Definition

“Qi” is a viable Scrabble word and it is the only two-letter word you can play with Q in Scrabble or Words With Friends. Played on its own (and not accounting for bonus squares or other words you form), the word "qi" is worth 11 points in Scrabble. 

Qi is defined as the vital force that is inherent in all things, according to Chinese thought. You can also use the plural, "qis." It is the force that is manipulated by acupuncture. It is a word you might be used to spelling "chi," but the "qi" version has gained currency. "Chi" also denotes a letter of the Greek alphabet, so it remains valid in Scrabble. You might also want to keep "ki" in mind, which is an allowed Scrabble word that means "qi" and can also be used in plural as "kis." If you are challenged about using "qi," be prepared with that explanation.

Za: Scrabble Word and Definition

According to Hasbro's official Scrabble dictionary, the definition of "za" is that it is a term for pizza. You can also use the plural, "zas." The Merriam-Webster dictionary agrees and notes that it is a slang term. The Oxford Living Dictionary online places an apostrophe in front, "'za" to show it is an informal, shortened term for pizza. The origin of "za" is from around the year 1968 when it was used by students in the United States.

Scrabble Tactics for Qi and Za

Scrabble players gained a new tactic to use q and z tiles with these two words. It is not easy to make words with Q without U, and "qi" allows you to make an 11-point word wherever there is an open "I." If the spot has a double or triple letter or word score, you rack up serious points.

Even better, look for a corner with an "I" on each arm and place your "Q" to score 22 points. If you have a "Z," you could likewise score 22 points in a corner where there is an A on each arm.

If you are on the defense, it would be best to avoid moves that would create these corners, especially if "Q" or "Z" have not yet been played. Also, be wary of leaving a double or triple word score spot open to the right of a "Z" or "Q." Your opponent could easily make a big score with an "A" or "I."

If you have a "Q" and there is a corner with an "I" on each arm, look for the chance to make these words to further build your score: "qis," "faquir(s)," "qindar(s)," "qintar(s)," "qiviut(s)," "qindarka."