Since we have recommended online reference sources, wouldn't it be nice to be able to access these directly from the site? I could see having either a right-click context menu to allow choosing which dictionary/thesaurus to use, or allowing the user to save a preferred resource that would be accessed from a new browser window/tab when they double-click a word. Does the site allow injection of a bit of JavaScript to handle such a feature?

Edit: This would be in addition to any similar tools already provided by the browser/addins/OS, because: 1. there are some resources that these don't take into account and 2. it would be a way to ensure (or insinuate) that "official sites" are used.

  • 1
    Sounds like a great idea for a userscript...
    – Shog9
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 23:20
  • Thanks, @Shog9, I will check that out.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 3:30

5 Answers 5


First off:

Are you on a Mac?

And if so, would you be happy with the New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus?

  • Yes

    You're in luck—it's built into the OS.

    In your browser, select the word and right-click. From the contextual menu, choose "Look up in Dictionary"

    Look up in Dictionary

    Once you've done that, a little tool tip menu will appear showing the definition. If you actually wanted a synonym, choose "Thesaurus" instead.

  • No

    What might work for you are what are known as bookmarklets—little bits of JavaScript code that that live in your bookmarks bar. When you find one, drag it into your bookmarks bar. Then when you select a word in your browser, you can click on your new bookmark, and you should (depending on your popup blocker) see a new window appear with the word's definition.

    Here's a couple of places you can get them:

    • Answers.com

      They use the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition and Roget's II: The New Thesaurus, 3rd edition.

      They have a variety of add-ons on their product page. Along with bookmarklets, they've also got extensions and widgets for a variety of devices and browsers.

    • Dictionary.com

      Dictionary.com has a page of bookmarklets (or as they refer to them, "Browser buttons"). Just look for the one that's the closest match to your browser.

      I couldn't find any definitive reference on their site as to where they get their information.

  • Also, if you are on a Mac you can use Spotlight to search the dictionary. I type Command-Space + the word I want.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 11:08
  • Both of the links under "no" are dead.
    – Laurel Mod
    Commented Feb 15, 2019 at 2:01

The big problem with this is that not all dictionaries are created equal. We have had collisions between dictionaries in the past. When I look for a dictionary link I choose one that helps illustrate my point; whether that means focusing on etymology, aggregation, wikis, British, American, pronunciation.

The length of time it takes to double-click and search your bookmarked dictionary isn't really that bad. Since time seems to be the only true advantage to doing this, I suggest that it isn't worth it.


I use such a thing every day on Firefox, an add-on called Dictionary Tooltip. I double-click a word; a small icon pops up near the word; I click the icon, and a small/resizable pop-up window appears that automatically searches any on-line website I have set it to. The pop-up is very fast, much faster than opening a new tab.

enter image description here

I have it set to Babylon Info by default, because that's very fast, and it auto-detects the language of the word. In a drop-down menu, you can have DT search other websites with a click. Several dictionary websites are built in, but you can add any custom website. You could add the OED if you have an on-line subscription to its website, or any searchable website, like StackExchange, if you want to quickly look up whether there exists a question about it. You can set DT to jump to certain headers on the page. Click anywhere outside the pop-up to close it. The pop-up has a button to open it (one time) as a tab in the browser, with the search results as a regular page.

This is the best search engine link to add the incredibly fast Babylon Info as a custom search website, which is rather difficult to find (it has many links of varying speed and quality). The $$ in the link is what Dictionary Tooltip uses in place of the search string (it will only work as a bookmark in your browser if you replace $$ with %s). Babylon shows part of the Wikipedia article (with clickable link) if it can't find the word in any of its languages.

enter image description here

Both this and the following look-up were done with automated language recognition by Babylon, so no selecting necessary: just double-click the word, click the icon, and voilà. You can also set the pop-up to activate without having to click the icon, but this gives you more control. The settings menus are a bit awkward; try not to let that put you off.

enter image description here

As you can see, there's a small text ad at the top of the pop-up that apparently isn't blocked by Adblock; I am in way affiliated with this extension.

I don't think we really need this built into SE, unless it's either optional or completely unobtrusive and fast; the site is already very heavy on the CPU of this old PC I'm using, and I wouldn't want it to bog down even more. As it is, I am forced to type comments in an external editor, because they have terrible lag here.


This would certainly save time. However, I believe only official sites should be used. i.e. Urban Dictionary is not official, with plenty of racial slurs, and un-censored material.

  • 1
    ...and poor quality. If you've never heard a word before, it's a start. If you have heard the word before, then sometimes it's spot on, other times...not.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 15:46
  • Urban Dict is sometimes the only way for me, as a non native speaker of English, to get an idea of what something (used in real life) could mean.
    – stacker
    Commented Jun 7, 2011 at 20:07

IMHO this belongs in a browser plugin, not as a part of the site implemented using Javascript or something. I've come across sites before that hijack your double click; they're extremely annoying and stop you from selecting text properly. I end up disabling Javascript's ability to hijack double-click. As for a right-click context menu; this would mean hijacking right-click, which again I really don't like.

When I need to look up a word in the dictionary, I type it into my Firefox search bar, select the dictionary I want, and hit enter; takes me 5 seconds. I say we don't need this feature.

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