capsule review

Word Menu 2.2

At a Glance
  • Write Brothers Word Menu 2.2

    Macworld Rating

If you work with the English language -- as a writer, an educator, or a student, for example -- you'll find myriad ways to use Write Brothers' Word Menu 2.2, a program that is part dictionary and part thesaurus. Word Menu may prove to be indispensable if you need to familiarize yourself with terms related to a specific field, if you're having trouble finding the perfect word to fit a particularly apt metaphor, or if you're stumped by a crossword puzzle.

Word Menu is a sui generis lexicon application. It groups words (more than 76,000, according to the documentation) into lists, which are organized in searchable, nested categories. For example, the word despicable is in a list that's five categories deep -- The Human Condition: Character and Behavior: Personality and Behavior: Good/Bad: Bad, False, Evil, Insincere, or Dishonest. That final subcategory has a list of hundreds of applicable words, from accursed to worthless. The program has hundreds of subcategories grouped under seven primary categories: The Human Condition, Nature, Science and Technology, Domestic Life, Institutions, Arts and Leisure, and Language. In some lists, there are brief definitions of the words -- but not all words are defined. I assume that the list name can work as a definition, but in such a broad list of terms, further explanation would be helpful.

For a program that is, fundamentally, a massive, well-organized collection of vocabulary lists, Word Menu is remarkably practical and useful. Installation is a breeze (at setup, you can opt to install a "kid-safe" lexicon). Once installed, the program lets you search word lists, definitions, category names, or any combination thereof. You can specify your results as terms either beginning with a certain sequence of letters or containing a certain sequence of letters. This is handy if you're not sure whether despicable starts with de or di, for instance. However, the program doesn't offer suggestions if you enter a misspelled word.

The program's clickable results window shows you where a looked-up word can be found in the program. It offers two view options: a textual list mode and a Fractal Browser mode, which displays lists, subcategories, and categories as clickable nested circles. This is a gratifying representation of the program's organization and an entertaining way to browse. Word Menu is, in some areas, better than it needs to be -- it lets you export or save word lists (as text or HTML files), and it provides tools for customizing the interface's look. It also remembers each word you look up during a session and lets you return to it. The program is generally quite thorough: its lists contain compound words, slang, and proper nouns (some thesaurus software neglects such terms).

But Word Menu isn't perfect: better and more definitions would improve it. Although many categories are strikingly complete (there's a lot of geographical information, for instance), some categories are too broad. Words cannot be categorized by part of speech, and a word's part of speech is often not given. Some important terms are missing -- for example, in the Computers category there's no FireWire or USB. (From within the program, you can alert the company to omissions.) And the program would benefit from some pronunciation guides.

Macworld's Buying Advice

At $35, Word Menu 2.2 is a practical investment if you work with words or if you're a crossword aficionado. It has some flaws -- which, to be fair, don't stop it from doing what it promises to do. Overall, Word Menu is a good and unique language reference.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Very easy to use
    • Well-organized and thorough lexicon
    • Exportable word lists
    • Attractive interface
    • Customizable search parameters

    Cons

    • Some categories are too broad
    • Many words are undefined
    • Lists can be viewed only in alphabetical order
    • No pronunciation guides
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