I was testing some code that I wrote to solve the New York Times' "Letter Boxed" game. The other day, it was giving results that included compound words containing "box" (e.g., "icebox"), but not the word "box" itself.

At first, I thought there was a bug in my code. However, I checked /usr/share/dict/words and -- lo and behold -- "box" isn't in there. According to the README file alongside the word list, this is from FreeBSD, circa 1993.

Is this intentional, or just an honest omission? What other common words are missing from this file? Has FreeBSD conceded to the existence of boxes in the last ~30 years, even if Apple hasn't?

  • Interestingly, it does contain some non-words, like boxen.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 26, 2021 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


From /usr/share/dict/README

Welcome to web2 (Webster's Second International) all 234,936 words worth. The 1934 copyright has lapsed, according to the supplier. The supplemental 'web2a' list contains hyphenated terms as well as assorted noun and adverbial phrases. The wordlist makes a dandy 'grep' victim.

So "box" wasn't part of the list the file is based an. This page implies that modern use started with World War II which would explain why it was not included in an earlier dictionary.

For an updated list you may want to look at any of the Linux packages providing a similar file (see https://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/33488/where-can-i-download-the-usr-dict-packages for a list of sources).

  • 2
    Got it: Boxes were invented sometime during the Second World War. Aug 26, 2021 at 17:43
  • 1
    You are incorrect on the history of the use of the word box. The note you are looking at is connected to the specific use of "box" as slang meaning "vulva". The OED has citations for "box" meaning a container going back as far as 1000 AD.
    – Tim Dierks
    Jan 19, 2022 at 19:24

"Box" isn't in the /usr/share/dict/words file because it's an incomplete word list with unclear provenance or criteria, unmaintained and of legacy value only. It has been distributed with BSD-derived open-source Unix distributions for years: here is the changelog from FreeBSD going back to 1994, and here to 1985, although I believe that history to not be complete. You'll note that the README author, James A Woods of NASA Ames, uses a UUCP bang-path notation for his email address, dating this to the 1980's.

It's missing a number of valid words including "began", "fauna", "safer", and "women"; its claim to be derived from 1936 Webster's doesn't explain these.

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