English isn’t my native language, so I constantly see words I don’t understand while reading online. Is there an easy way to look them up on my Mac?
Ever since the rise of interactive computers we live in a golden age of dictionaries and word definitions. Whether you’re reading a Web page, immersed in some email you just received or even checking out a text message on your phone, it’s easier to look up words than ever before. Even better, this helps you not just better comprehend what you’re reading but it also helps improve your writing too, since it’s just as easy to look up the words you’re about to use to ensure that they really mean what you think!
If you’re not much of a dictionary person, you might not realize that different sources can have different definitions too, so in some situations it’s also useful to compare meanings and definitions to ensure that you’re not misreading a definition on the Mac. Your Mac system has a built-in dictionary called, ingeniously enough, Dictionary, and it’s woven throughout the entire operating system. There are other options too. Let’s have a look!
First off, I used this myself this morning, as I was reading through an ISO international standard on sound and hearing called ISO 226:2003. It contained this particular passage:
Um, what? I couldn’t help but wonder what an “otologically normal person” was, so I looked up otologically on my Mac from directly within the Google Chrome browser. To do that, I Control-Clicked on the word itself, bringing up the context menu:
You can see the top choice: Look Up “otologically”. I chose that to have the Mac give the word to the Dictionary program for a definition.
Well, that’s frustrating! Fortunately, Spotlight has a different approach to looking up words on the Mac, so this time I copied the word, then used the Control-[SPACE] shortcut to pop open the Spotlight search bar. Type in “define”, add the word and:
Not quite the word I looked up, but a whole lot closer and sufficient to understand its use in the ISO standard paragraph.
Still, what happens if I launch the Dictionary app on the Mac? Easily done by just typing in ‘dictionary’ to Spotlight. Then paste the word:
Yay! Oh, wait, look closely. That’s the wrong definition because Dictionary has decided I really wanted to look up a different word, “ontological”. Nope, no “n”, thanks very much. Interestingly, the word I’m looking up (well, its root) shows immediately below on the left, so a click on that and I do get the correct definition:
In the interest of completeness, let me show you one more trick: You can easily look up words in Google by prefacing it with “define:” (note the inclusion of the colon). Like this:
There are actually a couple of interesting things going on in the above example. First, spell correct is suggesting the root word look up (otological) but unusually, it’s not actually showing the definition in the search results. Usually Google is smart about that. Also note that we have options: Wikipedia and Dictionary.com both offer definitions and we don’t even have to go to their sites to see in the snippet that otological / otology is about hearing.
Now, between all those options, you should always be able to look up any word you encounter and aren’t 100% sure about its meaning!
Pro Tip: I have a lot of Mac help pages here on the site: I’ve been an Apple user since the Apple II!