Dictionary widget tricks

The Dictionary widget in OS X 10.4 is a convenient (and nice-looking) way to look up the occasional word in the dictionary or thesaurus. Its operation is apparently straightforward—hit F12 to bring up Dashboard, open the Dictionary widget if it’s not currently showing, then type your word into the search box in the upper right corner of the widget.

There are, however, a couple of nuances to this little widget that you might not be aware of. First, as with text in many OS X applications, you can get the search box to show you possible completions based on the characters you’ve typed so far. How? Just press and hold Control, Option, or Command, then press the Escape key, and you’ll see a drop-down list of possible completions. Scroll or arrow down to the word you’d like to use, press Return, and its definition will appear.

(In an application like TextEdit, you can just press Escape by itself to see the completions. In the Dictionary widget, however, Escape by itself will cancel your input. By holding any modifier key first, it seems the widget sees the Escape key, which causes the list of completions to display.)

The other trick with the Dictionary widget involves what you can do once you have a definition visible in the widget. Type rain for instance, and you’ll see that rain is “moisture condensed from the atmosphere that falls visibly in separate drops.” And a very clear definition it is! But see that half-circle with the “R” on it sticking out on the left edge of the widget? Click that, and you’ll see a list of other known words and phrases that start with “rain.” Click any of those words to jump to their definition; click the “R” again (before clicking another word), and you’ll switch back to the standard definition of “rain.”

Toggle the widget from Dictionary mode to Thesaurus mode, and the same trick works—here it will show you a list of other words in the thesaurus that are similar to the chosen word. Toggle the “R” again, and you’re back to the thesaurus entries for “rain.”

So while it may appear simple on the surface, the Dictionary widget has at least a couple tricks up its sleeve.

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