Make Tiger's Dictionary roar

Tiger’s Dictionary goes the extra mile to help you find just the right word. Select something, press Control-Command-D and you can instantly see the definition in many OS X applications. You can even then hold down Control and Command, move your mouse around, and get the definitions of other words as you roll over them. It doesn’t work in every application, but it’s a powerful feature.

Of course, it’s not perfect. The keyboard shortcut is quite close to Mail’s Send Message shortcut (Shift-Command-D). One slip of a finger in Mail, and that rant you had drafted to your boss just to blow off steam suddenly becomes a career limiting move! You’ve also got to be a bit of a finger contortionist to hold down Command and Control while you surf around defining other words. Thankfully, you can solve both problems with one easy fix: just reassign the keyboard shortcut. I’ll show you how and in the process, we’ll also make the Dictionary lookup feature much more usable.

Make the Change

To do this, open the Keyboard & Mouse system preferences panel, and click on the Keyboard Shortcuts tab. Scroll down the list until you get to the Dictionary section. You’ll see the entry Look Up in Dictionary in the Description column with the shortcut next to it. Double-click on the shortcut to make the text field editable. Now you’re ready to assign a new shortcut. Don’t pick just any old key combo. Instead, pick an unused function key—F7 or F13, for example. Press the function key you wish to use, and you should see it reflected in the Shortcuts column:

Note for PowerBook and iBook Users

If you’re using a portable Mac, you may have to use the “Fn” key in combination with the functions keys. By default, PowerBooks and iBooks are set to use the function keys to control hardware features, such as screen dimming and volume. If you’d rather use the function keys for software features, like this shortcut, visit the Keyboard tab of the Keyboard & Mouse panel and select the option to Use the F1-F12 Keys to Control Software Features. Now you’ll be able to assign a function key to the Dictionary shortcut.

Test it Out

Once you’ve made this simple change, switch back to a Dictionary-aware application, such as Mail or Safari, and give it a try. By assigning a simple function key, you’ve made a fundamental change in how Dictionary works. No longer is it an “active while keys are depressed” application. Instead, a quick tap of your chosen function key turns the pop-up dictionary on or off. So to look up a bunch of words, just hit F7, for example, then start mousing around the page. When you’re done, hit F7 again, and all is back to normal.

No more finger gymnastics, no more accidentally-mailed Mail messages. Just easy-to-use pop-up Dictionary perfection!

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