Dictionary (software)

Dictionary (software)
Dictionary Icon.png
Wikipedia in Dictionary.png
Dictionary running under Mac OS X Leopard, showing Wikipedia's page on Wikipedia.
Developer(s) Apple Inc.
Stable release 2.2.1 / October 12, 2011
Operating system Mac OS X
Type dictionary
Website http://www.apple.com

Dictionary is an application developed by Apple for its Macintosh computers. It was introduced with Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger", and provides definitions and synonyms from the New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition and Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, 2nd Edition. It also includes Wikipedia and a section called Apple which includes Apple related items.



OS X's progenitor, OPENSTEP (and NEXTSTEP) provided similar functionality, called Digital Webster, providing dictionary and thesaurus definitions from Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary and Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus (termed the "First Digital Edition"). OPENSTEP Services provide lookup from all applications.


Words can be entered in the search bar by just typing the first few letters. The application will perform an incremental search to show any matching headwords or forms, and will try to bypass spelling errors. Clicking on any word in a definition searches for that word in the dictionary again. Almost any word is clickable, except the pronunciations in phonetic characters and numerals.

The Preferences allow a user to select from three different pronunciation schemes, either US English (Diacritical or IPA), or British English (IPA).

The dictionary and thesaurus in Dictionary are in an XML format, but make use of precompiled binary index files to access the XML file directly. Therefore, the lexicon cannot be modified. However, the user can add new words to the Mac OS X system-wide spell checker, which uses its own lexicon.

Quick access

  • In applications which support "Services", there is an option in the application menu (for example, Safari>Services>Look up in Dictionary) which brings up the Dictionary application and displays the definition of a selected word. The same option appears in the contextual menu after a Control-click on the selected word.
  • The key combination D can be used in Cocoa applications which display text – it brings up a small contextual menu-like definition or synonym of the word under the cursor.
  • In applications which support the ability of the user to drag selected text, it is possibile to select a word and drop it onto the icon of the Dictionary application in the Dock.
  • Dashboard includes a widget for accessing the Dictionary application.
  • Mac OS X catches any queries to the dict:/// URI scheme, say from a web browser, and routes them back to the Dictionary application.

Other languages

As of Mac OS X Leopard, the application includes the Japanese-language dictionary Daijisen, Progressive English to Japanese and Progressive Japanese to English dictionaries, and the 25,000-word thesaurus "Tsukaikata no Wakaru Ruigo Reikai Jiten" (使い方の分かる類語例解辞典?), all of which are provided by the Japanese publisher Shogakukan. The Japanese dictionaries do not show up by default, and must be enabled in Preferences.

Software such as DictUnifier[1] can be used to add more dictionaries to the application.


Leopard also introduced the use of Wikipedia. However, since the redesign of Wikipedia in the first quarter of 2010, and for participants in the usability study in late 2009, the scrolling functionality of Wikipedia in Dictionary did not work. No scrollbars were present, and users were not able to scroll to parts of the article outside of the constraints of the window size upon loading a Wikipedia article. This error has been fixed since the release of Mac OS X 10.6.5 on November 10, 2010.

Debatable entries

The thesaurus entry for "democracy" used to have, as its usage sentence, "a democracy in Iraq is quite unlikely for now or any time soon." Some have claimed this was a political comment added by an Apple programmer; however, Oxford University Press has confirmed that this statement originates from their corpora, not Apple's, and was not meant to have a political interpretation.[2] Under Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the sentence has been replaced with the following: "freedom of speech is essential to democracy."


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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