It’s crazy to think about how unpopular encyclopedias have become thanks to the various references found online, and the same thing is happening to dictionaries. These days word processors (and other apps) are integrating dictionaries so that they are even more useful to the end user. The next logical step for dictionaries is a system-wide integration, which gives the user access to definitions from within any application.
What we’ve got in store for you today is how you can maximize the convenience factor of system-wide dictionaries for both Mac OS X and Windows. You can literally retrieve definitions and synonyms within seconds if you know the right keys to press. ;)
If you’re a Mac user you probably know about the built-in dictionary/thesaurus that you can pull up at a moments notice. What you may not know, however, is that in Cocoa applications such as Safari, iChat, and Mail you can also get in-place definitions. Just hover your mouse over a word and press Command+Control+D to bring up the definition:
The menu in the bottom-left corner will let you switch between viewing a dictionary definition and synonyms from the thesaurus. Unfortunately this doesn’t work in non-Cocoa applications such as Firefox.
–WordWeb for Windows–
Last week one of our commenters, “skh.pcola,” pointed out a fabulous application called WordWeb. It operates much like the built-in dictionary on the Mac, except that it is compatible with nearly all Windows applications. The simplicity of WordWeb is really what makes this an indispensable app for any Windows user. Just Control+Click as you hover over a word and you’ll instantly see a definition appear:
If you don’t know how to pronounce a word just click the speaker button towards the upper-right corner. This only uses the built-in Windows text-to-speech engine to speak the word, but it will give you some idea as to how it’s actually pronounced.
WordWeb comes with 150,000 words and 120,000 synonym sets making it ideal even when you’re not connected to the Internet. It offers definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and more all in one place.
One thing that I want to point out is that there will sometimes be plus/minus signs when viewing different tabs, such as the antonyms pictured to the right. Clicking the plus sign will add more results by making the search criteria less restrictive, and the minus sign will do just the opposite.
There is support for viewing Wikipedia articles from within the application, but it’s nothing to really jump up and down over. It doesn’t modify the layout of the page at all, and is really no different than viewing the actual article in your browser:
Interestingly the free version of WordWeb has a license unlike any other that I’ve seen. They are actually trying to help the environment with the restrictions they’ve imposed:
WordWeb free version may be used indefinitely only by people who take at most two commercial flights (not more than one return flight) in any 12 month period. People who fly more than this need to purchase the Pro version if they wish to continue use it after a 30-day trial period.
Now if those aren’t two fast ways to get dictionary definitions then I don’t know what is. Drop a comment below with the tools you use to lookup words, whether it be a site like Dictionary.com or an application.