Friday, March 16, 2007

Online Dictionaries

I have discovered that one of the most helpful resources for my writing has been an online dictionary. When I am in the midst of writing, it is helpful to have access to a dictionary to look up the meaning of a word, find a new word, or use a new word in a different way. There are several good online dictionaries from which to choose.

Choice Dictionaries
The dictionary of choice amongst editors is the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, which can be found at the website: This website is helpful because it provides the meaning of the word in question in its verb, adjective, or noun form. It also has a list of the contexts in which the word is found along with its meaning. Finally an etymology or history of the word is provided to the researcher. This dictionary also has a Spanish-English dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary can be accessed from the e-library link from the website. By searching the databases by name under the “O,” you can access the OED. The OED offers many unique features like new words just recently added from colloquial usage, quarterly updates of new words added to the dictionary, and featured additions of words now a part of the English language as slang. Another feature of the OED is a learning resource for university level students to use with a tutorial to follow highlighting how to use the OED online. also offers a display of all the contexts in which a word is used such as slang, business, general, art, computing, medicine, miscellaneous, religion, science, sports, technology, and phrases. The word is listed in its category along with the name of the dictionary where the meaning is found. also displays the results of several different dictionaries’ definitions. This website also has some other unique features such as a translator, where text can be entered and instantly translated either to another language from English or from another language to English. It also has a crossword puzzle dictionary and a “word of the day” in both English and Spanish. This site includes and

Many Meanings
A great example of the importance of a dictionary to determine the many meanings associated with a word is the word mean” As a noun, mean may signify intentions or purposes, or a mathematical calculation of the average. As an adjective describing a noun however, mean means offensive. If you add an “s” to the word mean, its meaning changes to several possibilities, depending on the context in which it is used. Means may be understood as a method to attain an end, an indication, or it can represent wealth.

Have you become annoyed by my use of the word mean so often? Well, as previously mentioned, also has a great feature: the Reading the same word repeatedly may cause you to lose interest in a paper (sometimes your own paper). If you type in the overused (repeated) word, a comprehensive list of alternative choices with a similar meaning will be displayed. Just be careful when choosing a replacement word: words have nuances that will affect how a reader understands them.

Online dictionaries may not be the cure for writers’ block, but they are a great resource.
Happy writing.

Cindy Isaak-Ploegman

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