Recently, I took deep dives into some of the apps that are part of macOS. So far, you have the knowledge to become a power user of macOS Calculator and Stickies apps. Today you will learn to push every bit of your ability out of it Dictionary app.
Let’s start by starting the dictionary app. Like all other Mac apps, it’s located in the Applications folder, so you can launch it from there. If you use the Dictionary app a lot, you can add it to the Dock by clicking and holding the dictionary icon and then selecting “Options> Keep in the Dock” (see screenshot below).
If your list is different, or if you want to add different sources, do so from the dictionary menu. Select Settings and the window will appear in the screen below. There is a list of different reference sources listed. Check the ones you want to use and you can drag them up or down in the order you prefer. Each of the sources may have several options. For example, pronunciation for the New Oxford American Dictionary can be displayed using diacritical marks or the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA.
Do you want to translate some words to or from another language? There are many mixed dictionaries, such as the Oxford – Hachette French Dictionary, which is a French – English dictionary.
Once you have the Dictionary app open and have selected some sources, it is extremely easy to use. In the search field at the top of the screen, just type the word you want a definition of. Here I will look up the word apple, and in the screenshot below you can see that we start with our first preference, New Oxford American English dictionary (AKA “English”).
I can also look at the English thesaurus, which does not show synonyms for the word Apple. I can go to Wikipedia and get the entire Wikipedia entry for apple (see image below). To the left is a list of items on Wikipedia that contain the word Apple, so if I want to find out more about the company, I can choose Apple Inc.
When we jump to the French-English dictionary, we see the French word for Apple (pomme) as well as common expressions in French (see screenshot below). While English speakers can say “There is a bad apple in every herd”, the French use “Il ya toujours une brebis galeuse”, roughly translated as “There is always a black sheep”.
Finally, we can look at the Apple Glossary, which shows a long list of Apple products or services that begin with the word Apple.
Do not like the lowercase letters in the Dictionary app? Click the larger of the two A’s at the top of the window to increase the font size, or the smaller one to decrease the font size.
You may notice that most of the words in the definitions are underlined when you move the pointer over them. This means that you can right-click on that word and select from a context menu. Right-click on “fruit”, and we get the choice between looking up the word in a new tab or window, doing a Google search and so on.
If I open the word fruit in a new tab, it opens a tab like the ones you see in Safari and other apps (see screenshot below). Click the tab to open it. You can even add a new tab without typing a word by clicking the plus sign.
Many people have trouble deciphering the diacritics and the international phonetic alphabet to decide how to pronounce a word, so you can also let your Mac speak the word. Right-click on the word “product” in the fruit definition and choose Speech> Start Talking (see screenshot below). The Mac voice does a very good job of pronouncing each word.
The Mac operating system even provides access to the dictionary without having to open the dictionary app. In the screenshot below, I visit the Rocket Yard website in Safari. Let’s say I want to know what the word theater means. I right-click on the word, select Look up theater, and a window appears with the definition, synonyms and even French usage.
Another way to do this? Hold the cursor over a word and type the shortcut Control – Command (⌘) – D. It highlights the word in yellow and displays the same lookup window.
Blocks dirty words, adds words and makes Siri spell a word
When I was a terrible kid in the 60’s, I used to look up dirty words in the dictionary. If you have children and want to prevent them from following in my footsteps, you can block these words. Start System Preferences, click Screen Time, and then click Content and Privacy. If these restrictions are turned off, click the Turn on … button. In the Content tab, you will see an item for “Allow explicit language in Siri and dictionary”. Uncheck that box, and now your kids can’t look up the meaning of any of the words you’d rather not have them use.
Sometimes you may find that when you use another app on your Mac, it decides to do so flag a word as misspelled. This often happens with technical terms or brand names. For example, I like the Noom lifestyle app, but it usually changes auto-correction to “moon” when I type. When you see the dotted red line below a word that your Mac thinks is misspelled, right-click it and select “Learn Spelling”. Although you will still not be able to search your dictionaries for the word, it will no longer be marked as an incorrect spelling since it was added to a user dictionary.
Another cool thing that has to do with the dictionary. Sometimes you may know a word but do not know how to spell it to look it up in the dictionary. Let’s say I need to figure out how to spell the word “gnostic”. I can only ask Siri. Calling Siri on your Mac is easy if you enable it Ask Siri in System Preferences. I’m just going to say “Hi, Siri, spell gnostic” – and Siri spells it for me.
As you can see, the macOS Dictionary app is both incredibly powerful and easy to use. You have no more excuses for not knowing the meaning or spelling of a word, finding synonyms or even what the word is in another language. See you soon with a new useful Apple tip!