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Hack 9. Consult the Dictionary

Google, in addition to its own spellchecking index, provides hooks into

Google's spellchecking [Hack #5] is built on its own word and phrase database, gleaned while indexing web pages. Thus, it provides suggestions for lesser-known proper names, phrases, common sentence constructs, etc. Google also offers a definition service powered by ( Such definitions, coming from a credible source and augmented by various specialty indexes, can be more limited.

Run a search. On the results page, you'll notice the phrase "Searched the web for [query words]." If the query words would appear in a dictionary, they will be hyperlinked to a dictionary definition. Identified phrases will be linked as a phrase; for example, the query "jolly roger" will allow you to look up the phrase "jolly roger." On the other hand, the phrase "computer legal" will allow you to look up the separate words "computer" and "legal."

The definition search will sometimes fail on obscure words, very new words, slang, and technical vocabularies (otherwise known as jargon). If you search for a word's meaning and Google can't help you, try enlisting the services of a meta-search dictionary, like OneLook (, which indexes over six million words from over 1,000 dictionaries. If that doesn't work, try Google again with one of the following tricks, queryword being the word you want to find:

  • If you're searching for several words—you're reading a technical manual, for example—search for them at the same time. Sometimes you'll find a glossary this way. For example, maybe you're reading a book about marketing, and you don't know many of the words. If you search for storyboard stet SAU, you'll get only a few search results, and they'll all be glossaries.

  • Try searching for your word and the word glossary, say, stet glossary. Be sure to use an unusual word; you may not know what a "spread" is in the context of marketing but searching for spread glossary will get you over two million results for many different kinds of glossaries. See [Hack #20] for language translation.

  • Try searching for the phrase queryword means or the words What does queryword mean?.

  • If you're searching for a medical or a technical item, narrow your search to educational (.edu) sites. If you want a contextual definition for using equine acupuncture and how it might be used to treat laminitis, try "equine acupuncture" laminitis.

  • site:edu will give you a brief list of results. Furthermore, you'll avoid book lists and online stores, which is handy if you're seeking information and don't necessarily want to purchase anything. If you're searching for slang, try narrowing your search to sites like Geocities and Tripod and see what happens. Sometimes young people post fan sites and other informal cultural collections on free places like Geocities, and using these, you can find many examples of slang in context instead of dry lists of definitions. There are an amazing number of glossaries on Geocities; search for glossary, and see for yourself.

Google's connection with means that simple definition checking is fast and easy. But even more obscure words can be quickly found if you apply a little creative thinking.

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