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Mac 101: Getting the most out of Dictionary.app

Welcome back to Mac 101, our series of posts aimed at novice Mac users and veterans who like the occasional refresher.

Mac OS X is equipped with a dictionary application that does pretty much what you'd expect, and a few things you might not. Here's how you can get the most out of Dictionary.

Most people use a dictionary to look up a word's definition. Doing so in Dictionary is pretty straightforward: Just launch the app, type your target term into the search field and hit return. That's all well and good, but not very interesting.

Here's what is. Click any word in the definition to find the meaning of that word. Do this just once, and an orange "Snap Back" icon appears in the search field. When clicked, it brings you back to your original search term.

Here's another cool trick. Let's say you looked up "Surname." Dictionary displays it broken up by syllable: "sur•name." If you highlight and copy it, it will paste as it should be written: "surname."

But wait, there's more! Highlight or position the cursor over a word in any Cocoa application (Safari, for example) and hit Control-Command-D. A small window appears that displays that word's definition and thesaurus alternative(s). If the term in question is the name of an Apple product, you'll see that product's official description from Apple. Clicking "More" at the bottom of this tiny window launches Dictionary.

Let's say you typically misspell a word that you have to type often (my Achilles' heel is "Twitterrific"). Simply right- or Control-click that word and select "Learn Spelling" to add it to Dictionary.

Dictionary is also more than a collection of definitions. You can quickly switch between a thesaurus, official descriptions of Apple products and Wikipedia. Additionally, select "Font/Back Matter" from the Go menu to access a slew of great information, like
  • Proofreader's Marks
  • The History of English
  • Countries of the World
  • Chemical Elements
Of course, every single word you find there can be clicked to reveal its definition. Finally, here's a bit of eye candy that isn't useful but still fun. You can browse every photo in Dictionary by navigating to
/Library/Dictionaries/New Oxford American Dictionary.dictionary/Contents/Images

and switching to Cover Flow view.

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