After 20 years of constructing and listening to the discourse around "crosswordese," I still don't know what it is. A lifelong curiosity towards words has probably immunized me against hating EWER, which appears on just about every crosswordese list. If you visit a museum you'll see one in a still-life. Ewers are easy to find -- like the ones at Mugi, our neighborhood potters' studio, where they're made and sold.
Each puzzle has its own challenges and while I might avoid certain words from time to time, I don't see them as crosswordese. They're simply words that needn't be feared. The famous "Potent Potables" category on "Jeopardy!" is simply that -- a recurring category. It's not considered "Jeopardy-ese!"
I may not want to use IRE too often, but when Martin Ashwood-Smith clues it as "Pique condition?" . . . I'm reminded that well-written clues will diffuse anyone's ire towards familiar three-letter words. Good cluing, as consistently demonstrated in Sherry O. Blackard's work, makes puzzles glitter. Sherry's puzzles were a hit with solvers, men and women alike. Her grids aren't overly flashy, but the cluing takes takes standard vocabulary to a very high level.
If newspaper columnists were judged by the number of times they repeated certain words--like THE, AND, THEREFORE, ME, I . . . we'd wonder -- why? When ECRU appears in a newspaper article, it's simply a word. But if it's used in a puzzle on the same page of the same newspaper, it's isolated as crosswordese. How dare the crossword editor use ECRU twice in as many months!
"Crosswordese refers to hackneyed, obscure words or partial phrases, usually three, four and five letters long, used in crossword puzzles. These words are rarely, if ever, encountered in everyday conversation"
ECRU, again, is listed as an example. Well, it may be obscure to someone with a limited vocabulary. But if you've looked at paint chips or read the fashion pages within the last decade . . . you know it's a neutral color.
A lack of familiarity with a word doesn't mean it's obscure.
Google "crosswordese" and you'll find lots of word lists, chosen according to varying sets of criteria. Among the hundreds of words compiled by constructors and solvers, these generated more questions than answers:
ECRU, BALI: Oh . . . like the ecru-and-white lace Bali lingerie I picked up at Saks?
ETUDE: Oh . . . as in the Chopin Etudes my 15-year-old nephew has listened to and studied since he was 7?
SLOE, BOSC, GALA: Oh . . . as in the sloe berries, gala apples and bosc pears we bring home from the farmers' market?
SARI: Oh . . . like one of the lovely silken saris my neighbor wears?
STRAD, AMATI: Oh . . . like the violins, violas and cellos that have been in circulation since the 17th century--still seen, played and heard in concert?
IBIS, ISIS: Oh . . . as in the figures we saw in the Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian Wing?
OLAN: Oh . . . as in O-lan, a main character in Pearl S. Buck's Pulitzer-prize winning book, The Good Earth? Required reading in high school, college, Oprah's Book Club, or any study of great women writers.
SULA: Oh . . . as in Toni Morrison's novel Sula--apparent to those interested in more great women writers? (Morrison is a Nobel Laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner.)
EVAN: Oh . . . as in the hunky skater Evan Lysacek, Gold Medalist at the Vancouver Olympics and the only reason I'll ever watch Dancing with the Stars?
ARIA, AIDA: [They're kidding, right?]
After reading the "crosswordese" websites, I was left with the impression that the most overused, hackneyed word in the discourse around crosswords is, well . . . "crosswordese." The list compilers viewed it as (a) bad, (b) a necessary evil, (c) cute, (d) neutral, (e) ugly, (f) all or none of the above.
I have good news for solvers. Crosswordese is a non-issue in puzzlemaking. It's a myth. Why? According to the crosswordese compilers, the offending language always seems to appear in other people's puzzles, never their own . . . except when it does, in which case it's called "fill."
"Crosswordese" doesn't appear in Jim Horne's database of puzzle answers, and so I'll add my definition:
Crosswordese (n.): The specialized vocabulary of puzzlemaking that, according to constructors, appears in puzzles made by other people. When the same vocabulary appears in their own puzzles, it is referred to as "fill" and is therefore justified.
This excellent PBS documentary, "The Audition," shows that the ARIA is a living art form, performed by young people and simply glorious.