Meet the Snow Leopard Dictionary

Meet the Snow Leopard Dictionary
Mac Tip #400, 02 September 2009

A brief word about the newly contextual Services menu, and some pointers for using the Dictionary, along with setting its Preferences.

Apple recently released Snow Leopard, version 10.6 of the Mac Operating System. While previous versions of Mac OS X brought loads of whizz-bang new features, the main purpose of Snow Leopard was to tune things up behind the scenes. The ‘new’ features are generally fairly small, though helpful.

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A refined Services menu

A Tuatara is a nocturnal burrowing lizardlike reptile.

A Tuatara is a nocturnal burrowing lizardlike reptile.

You may not have noticed the Services menu before — it appears on most Applications menus. If you did use it you probably found it full of hundreds of items that were of no use for your specific situation.

Now that’s different. The Services menu is more contextual, containing only items that are directly relevant to what you’re doing.

For example, I have some text in a TextEdit document. I want to discover the meaning of a word (tuatara, in this case) so I select the word and go to the TextEdit > Services menu. There I choose Look Up in Dictionary.

The Snow Leopard Dictionary

The Dictionary in Snow Leopard opens, with the word I’d selected in the Search box. It opens up right to a definition of the word: a nocturnal burrowing lizardlike reptile.

The Dictionary defines tuatara.

The Dictionary defines tuatara.

But here’s where it becomes really interesting: I can also see information about the word in a dictionary of Apple terms — no surprise, there was no information; in a thesaurus (also no info); and in Wikipedia.

Dictionary preferences

It’s worth looking at the Dictionary Preferences: include and exclude Dictionaries, choose a default dictionary — I selected Wikipedia as my first preference — and even refine how each Dictionary behaves.

If you don’t yet have Snow Leopard look at the Dictionary now and watch my video to spot the differences.

Do you have any comments on this Tip? Add them below.


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  1. Nana Kofi said:

    Nice video by the way. I have a problem with the wikipedia in my dictionary. It displays the result but does not scroll down the page. I use it a lot don’t know what to do now. I’ve even tried reinstalling the dictionary software from the Snow Leopard installation disc but it still does not work. Can you help me please. Thank you.

  2. HP said:

    I’ve been having the same problem as Dave described. But I finally found that the ‘unobtrusive small dictionary panel’ feature has not disappeared. Check out the following link.

    The feature is still there in Snow Leopard, but it can be easily hidden because
    1) Safari or Pages may be using the same shortcut, hiding the dictionary shortcut
    2) You should NOT set a shortcut key in “Preference->Keyboard shortcut Service->Lookup in Dictionary”. This is NOT what you want, because this is a ‘BIG DICTIONARY WINDOW’ shortcut, not a ‘small dictionary panel’ shortcut.

    In my case, I was using Ctrl-Command-Z as the dictionary panel short cut before upgrading to Snow Leopard. Fortunately this does not collide with Safari shortcuts, but I assigned the same shortcut key in the Keyboard shortcut->Service, obscuring the feature I really wanted. So it seemed like the feature doesn’t work anymore. But after removing the shortcut setting, I got the small panel feature back. ( But I can’t find the shortcut key anywhere in the preference. Seems that I’m stuck with Ctrl-Command-Z forever. )

    You might also want to choose “Contextual menu opens a dictionary panel” in the Dictionary Preference.

  3. Miraz Jordan said:

    Dave, I’m puzzled. In older versions of the OS *and* in Snow Leopard I hover over a word, hold down Command and Control and press D. A small window appears with a definition of the word. It disappears when I click elsewhere.

    That sounds exactly like the behaviour you describe as having changed…

  4. Dave said:

    I’m actually rather annoyed about the dictionary in Snow Leopard. In Leopard, I was able to select a keyboard shortcut for the dictionary which, when I typed it with a word selected, would show me a dictionary definition in a small box right there on the same page (of any application). Clicking anywhere on the page made the box disappear.

    Now, with Snow Leopard, that option is gone (or at least I can’t figure out how to get to it). Instead, when I select a word and type my keyboard shortcut, I’m taken to a whole new page…which I then have to dismiss to get back to the page my word’s on.

    A step backward, if you ask me. Much clunkier!

  5. yaneev said:

    Thanx for the explanation. Got here while searching info about the renewed dictionary, but didn’t find the answers I was looking for. The report here actually list no new feature of the dictionary application itself! all features listed here existed already in Leopard.
    I’m actually worried about some new annoying features, for which there’ no trace in the preferences. For instance, I NEVER needed to be able to open more than one dictionary window. Now, whenever I right click a word in Safari, and select “Look Up in Dictionary” (also an old but great feature), a new dictionary window is added. No way to avoid that?

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