The web dictionary you never knew you had

All but the most skilled linguists regularly come across words we read for which we are not quite sure of the definition. Many turn to a traditional dictionary, but these can be cumbersome and slow. Computers make excellent dictionaries because of the rapidity with which definitions can be accessed. Strangely, however, few computers come with a built in dictionary (one that actually defines, not merely a spell-checker). Apple includes a dictionary with the Mac, both as a stand-alone application and as a dashboard widget. Even these dictionaries aren’t necessarily the most convenient when you are on browsing the web.

Fortunately, the hundreds of engineers supported by Google’s ever expanding fortune have come up with a solution. Into any Google search box (including those built in to most browsers), you can type define: followed by the word of interest. For example, entering “define: technology” culls a range of definitions for technology from around the web; it’s a sort of meta-dictionary. It is not necessarily a traditional dictionary, but it can be a nice complement.

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