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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Customise the dictionary

The Dictionary is a useful tool on the Mac and it comes built in to OS X. It is more than just a dictionary though, and it is also a thesaurus and it can be used to look up information in Wikipedia too. You have probably not thought about the Dictionary much, but there are actually some useful tweaks and different ways of using it. It is worth taking a look at this mini application and learning the shortcuts and ways in which you can access it and customise it. You'll then get more out of it and it will be more useful to you.

There are several different ways to access the Dictionary application and one way is to open the Applications folder and to double click it. Of course, it's a dictionary, so you can click Dictionary in the toolbar and enter a word to get a definition or a spelling - if you misspell something you'll see a 'No entries found. Did you mean?' message and one or more suggestions.

DictionaryYou can click Thesaurus in the toolbar and enter a word in the search box to see alternatives you can use. You'll see a list alternatives. Enter the word 'complicated' and in addition to the list of alternatives is a word spectrum.

It's a table that lists similar words to 'complex' on the left and opposites on the right 'simple'.

All the words are clickable and take you to other thesaurus entries. Not all thesaurus entries have a word spectrum and if you enter 'intricate' you'll see a word toolkit instead.

This is interesting because it shows the difference between similar words like 'intricate', 'complex' and 'convoluted' by listing the words that it is commony used with. For example, we might describe something as having an 'intricate design' or a 'convoluted plot'.

DictionarySuppose you are writing something on your Mac and you need to do some research. For example, you might be writing about salmonella, (unlikely perhaps, but it illustrates the point).

You could start Safari, go to the Wikipedia website, enter the search term and then display the page. Or you could click Wikipedia in Dictionary's toolbar and enter 'salmonella'. It instantly comes up with text and images explaining exactly what it is.

It's brilliant and there's just one slight snag. You can click the blue hyperlinks to jump to new pages in Wikipedia, but you can't backtrack and the back button in the toolbar goes back to the previous search term and not the previous Wikipedia page.

You may have noticed that there's an Apple entry in the toolbar and wondered what it's for. It's for looking up computer terms. Click Apple and enter words like Finder, Spotlight, volume and other terms you'll come across when using your Mac. You'll see computer definitions rather than dictionary definitions.

Access Dictionary from within applications

Accessing Dictionary by running it from the Applications folder isn't that convenient and there is a better way. However, Dictionary only works with certain applications that support it and it doesn't work with everything. To see it in action, start TextEdit and enter a few words - deliberately misspell some of them. You'll see that TextEdit automatically uses Dictionary and underlines misspelt words in red.

If a misspelt word is highlighted and you right click it (which often causes it to be highlighted anyway), you'll see a menu that has suggested spelling corrections at the top. Select the one you want. People's and company names and technical jargon isn't in the Dictionary, so there's an option to add a word if you know it is correct - choose Learn Spelling from the right-click menu. There's also an option to Look Up In Dictionary and this is useful for words that are spelt correctly, but you want to use the thesaurus to see if there's an alternative word you can use. The Dictionary window opens when you select this option.

If the text cursor is in a word, but the word is not highlighted when you right click it, you don't get the list of Dictionary suggestions in the pop-up menu. However, you can choose Spelling and Grammar, Show Spelling and Grammar to get the correct spelling. A dialog appears with spelling corrections.

Let the mouse hover over a correctly spelt word - one that doesn't contain the text cursor - and press Ctrl+Cmmand+D to see a pop-up Dictionary window. It has a habit of disappearing as soon as you take your fingers off the keys, but it'll stick around if you press the keys just right. There's a little drop-down menu at the bottom that enables you to select the thesaaurus and get alternative words too.

Run Dictionary and select Dictionary, Preferences. There are a couple of useful options: Opens Dictionary Application, and Opens Dictionary Panel. This determines the size of the window when you right click a word and select Look Up In Dictionary. Try it both ways and see which suits you best.

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