Written by: hexley on Wednesday May 14th 2008, 12:46 AM
Filed under: Applications,Finder,Little Smokies,OS X 10.4,OS X 10.5
Here’s a useful little tip. OS X actually has a separate dictionary program, other than Dictionary.app, that will quickly give you the definition of a word without leaving the application you are currently working in. Most modern applications support this in OS X, though some older applications may not be able to take advantage of the pop up dictionary. Some of you may be aware of this little gem, and others will probably be pleasantly surprised, just as I was when I found out about it.
Simply press Command+Control+D while hovering your mouse over any word, and a little window pops up with the definition. No need to hold down the keys, as it has already been activated. However, if you do continue to hold the keys, you can move your mouse over another word to see its definition as well.
As I mentioned before, this is a separate application than the Dictionary App, and works on most applications in OS X, however not all. Older applications, most from the OS 9 era, were developed with a technology called Carbon. Newer applications use a technology called Cocoa. The pop up dictionary should work in all Cocoa applications such as Safari, Mail, iChat and TextEdit, but it will fall short in a few like iTunes and Word. I find it to be a lot quicker than copying and pasting the word in question into the Dictionary.app to look it up. Hope you all like it as much as I do.
Thanks a lot! I love it. It’s great and fun to use.
It’s a pity Apple doesn’t really tell users about things like these…
Why keep them hidden, I wonder.
Didn’t do anything for me in Firefox but turn off hiding in the Dock.Comment by rolltimer 05.14.08 @ 3:31 AM
This keystroke combination doesn’t work for me. I tried it in Safari and Mail. I am running Leopard. Any suggestions?Comment by Deborah 05.14.08 @ 4:49 AM
Found the problem. I went to System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Keyboard Shortcuts and checked “Look up in Dictionary”. Now the hint works fine.Comment by Deborah 05.14.08 @ 5:05 AM
Fantastic! I’ve just shown everyone in the office.
What a great tip.
Great Tip! Glad to see you are back. Please keep the insights coming. Thanx-J.P.Comment by jp 05.14.08 @ 12:59 PM
@Deborah, glad you figured it out. The keyboard commands are very close to the auto hide show dock, just make sure you get the correct Command+Control+D combo, and you should be ok.Comment by Scott Haneda 05.14.08 @ 3:02 PM
Thanks for reminding me of this feature. It’s really slick.
Any ideas why this won’t work with Camino? Rolltimer’s comment re: Firefox makes me wonder if it would work with *any* Mozilla-based browser.Comment by EricM 05.14.08 @ 4:12 PM
@rolltimer and EricM. This feature doesn’t work in any Mozilla based browser. These include Camino and Flock. I’m not sure whether these are coded in Carbon or Cocoa but I would assume Carbon, so I’m not sure if it can be implemented. It would be great if it could though as I use Flock to do some personal blogging. Having that feature would be great. Still a great tip Scott.Comment by MikeP 05.14.08 @ 5:14 PM
Wow, great feature~I’ve been using a widget but this is faster.Comment by MrJim 05.16.08 @ 1:07 PM
Even easier than needing to remember the keystroke combo:Comment by DCJ001 05.19.08 @ 12:17 PM
Thanks for your tip! Especially useful for multiple lookups.
A quick way to use the Dictionary.app if you have a mighty mouse: double click on a word to select it; right click and select “Look up in Dictionary”. Of course, you get the Thesaurus and Wikipedia as well then.Comment by raine 05.24.08 @ 4:38 PM
Or you can activate Spotlight (Command-Spacebar) and type the word in the search field. Or copy and paste. I use that method when I have a word not on the screen, i.e. newspaper or book.Comment by mjh 05.28.08 @ 10:42 PM
any idea how to change (globally) the dictionary to an uk english one?
@namchampa, I am not aware of any way to make the change. You can do it on a per application basis, as far as spell checking is concerned, but the dictionary I believe is tied to the language you chose when installing OS X. Sorry I could not be of more help.Comment by Scott Haneda 06.03.08 @ 4:49 AM
Just have to say again~this is a terrific feature, I use it everyday! [Safari; I've not tried it on anything else]Comment by MrJim 06.04.08 @ 1:49 PM
So how do we Activate the dormant OSX Help?Comment by WetcoastBob 06.12.08 @ 10:19 PM
Just wondering why no updates recently? I thought perhaps my RSS wasn’t working.
JudieComment by Judie 06.14.08 @ 11:39 AM
WOWWWW I am so excited about this shortcut, and I don’t really even know why. Amazing, thanks!Comment by Jake Bathman 06.17.08 @ 10:50 AM
This doesn’t work for me. I’ve verified settings in System Preferences (look up in dictionary is checked), and while I can “right-click” on a word and select dictionary, the floating definition described isn’t happening. I’m using a Macbook running OSX Leopard. Any ideas?Comment by Di 06.21.08 @ 3:23 PM
Di: this is the best way to do it:Comment by DCJ001 06.22.08 @ 3:45 PM
@ Di – sometimes seeing it works better than reading about it.
try looking here.
anybody have any insight on what happened to Scott & the site?Comment by jim 06.24.08 @ 9:50 PM
I’m wonderin’ myself~hope everything is ok…Comment by MrJim 06.26.08 @ 4:48 PM
I just wrote Scott today to ask if he was ok. He’s ok and has some posts in the works, but he’s been busy. I just wanted to let anyone who was wondering know that he is still alive and kicking.
JudieComment by Judie 07.07.08 @ 8:48 PM
Thanks~I check in regularly to see if there is any news.
How did you populate my Mac window with my book buying data from Amazon? I just reset Safari, but you were still able to target your advertisement to my buying habits. Is there a new feature in Safari that let you do that?Comment by noyb 07.24.08 @ 6:16 PM
@noyb, Amazon pulls content based on the data we have on our page, as well as data based on your past visits to them. We have no control over how amazon generates the ads on our site.Comment by Scott Haneda 07.27.08 @ 10:22 PM
I’ve enabled ‘stealth mode’..I assume this closes any open ports and emulates a router so my imac is cloaked. But…I am not sure of the potential downsides. Will this lock out ‘friendlies’?
Thnx 4 the wonderful tip.Found out that it also works in omniweb.Comment by Joe 08.02.08 @ 8:06 AM
Great Tip Thanks a lotComment by Dr M Nabeel Imran 09.27.08 @ 2:16 PM
Does this tip require 10.4 or later?Comment by Mark Spain 10.13.08 @ 10:01 AM
Man! I used to use this hint but now it doesn’t work for me after I installed leopard. I think that was when it quit. I tried shortcuts in preferences and dictionary preferences. I really need this! Please help! Please.Comment by sammy 10.20.08 @ 3:41 PM
@sammy, if you look in your “Keyboard Shortcuts” in the System Preferences, is there an entry for “Lookup in Dictionary” and is it set to command-control-D?
If it is not, you will need to add it, or change the shortcut to that. There is a chance, you have some other app that is taking over that shortcut, and that is why it is not working.
You may want to try deleting it from the listing in Keyboard Shortcuts, or, as long as you are ok with this, you can “Restore Defaults”.
Also, remember, this does not work in all Applications, so test in one you know it will work in, such as Safari.Comment by Scott Haneda 10.23.08 @ 1:23 PM
I appreciate your help, but the key command is already control-command-D, (you said command-control-D, I’m not sure if the order of the keys matter, but it won’t let me change it to command-control-D) and I am using safari to try this command but it will not work for me. Restore defaults changes absolutely nothing it seems. Please help. I hate that I can’t use this. Thanks again.Comment by sammy 10.23.08 @ 7:46 PM
@sammy, the order of the keys does not matter in any way, at least, as long as the non letter keys are pressed last. So command, control, or option, can be pressed in any order, the single letter, or last command, must always come last.
My next suggestion to you, and a very simple way to troubleshoot, is to see if this is a local user account preference issue. Go into System Preferences, and into Accounts, and make a new account. Log out of your primary account, and login to your newly created, never used account.
See if the command works in that account, if it does, we have now narrowed it down to a preference issue, and we should be able to locate which one it is, delete it, and let the system create it new and clean.Comment by Scott Haneda 10.26.08 @ 7:44 PM
I did this and it still does not work. Not in the new user, not in mine. thank you so much for your help.Comment by sammy 10.27.08 @ 10:58 AM
We need more postings!Comment by John 10.28.08 @ 12:15 PM
29abemhlg711xdsmComment by Kipp Gill 11.12.08 @ 4:16 PM
Wow – that command still works for me – running Leopard. If I ever tried it when you mentioned it in May, I promptly forgot about it. How handy! It worked in Safari and in Mail. Not Word or Firefox. Not sure what else it would work in. ???Comment by Judie 12.21.08 @ 2:33 AM
That is awesome! I just discovered your ‘blog’ if thats what you call it, and its amazing so far! Thanks for the effort!Comment by allison 05.10.09 @ 11:47 PM
Great tip, thanks. Just used it on the word “smokies” used on this very site : got the answer : smoked fish… I still don’t understand the phrase “little smokies”. And it’s not very useful when you run your Mac with a localised version…
Excuse me for being French !
Thanks a tonne for putting up this awesome help. Just got a mac book (better late than never )last Saturday, and all the pointers and tips is greatly helping me to be cleansed and become a mac convert.
Thanks once again for all your time!Comment by Subrata 08.13.09 @ 3:33 AM
This is one of those really cool tips that even after you think you know an OS pretty well hits you over the head and surprises you.
I’ll give you credit and send some link love your way.Comment by LearningOSX.com 10.07.09 @ 6:03 AM
I gotta tip and a question. If you download other dictionaries for the dictionary program, you can use it to translate back and forth from a language. for example i have an english to chinese and a chinese to english dictionary and it automatically senses which dictionary it should use. It’s really useful!
Here’s my question. I just installed snow leopard and the command-control-D works, but I had it set up in leopard so I just had to hit F1 to activate it, but I can’t figure out how to change it. When I try to edit the keyboard shortcut “look up in dictionary” it doens’t work. It just won’t let me edit the input. any ideas?Comment by sasha 11.01.09 @ 4:36 AM
@sasha thanks for the tip!
On the keyboard shortcut issues. I would first make sure you have applied all the current system updates. I believe there are two significant update to Snow Leopard now. I know there was certainly a good deal of bugs with regard to keyboard shortcuts in early pre-release versions of Snow.
Second, I would try to assign the key as a non F key. It could be that F1, depending on your machine is a little more hard wired to something else. For example, on the laptop on which I type this, F1 controls brightness, and I find some apps allow that as a key that can be overridden, and others do not.
Perhaps try a different function, one that is more simple, or defining your own. So try editing the “Show Help Menu” to something else, this way we can see if it is limited to just the lookup in dictionary, or if it is a problem with the entire preference area.
I have this feeling F1 may just be off limits, or you may have to find the conflict and resolve it first. This seems logical as to why you can not even edit the field, it is essentially “in use”.Comment by Scott Haneda 11.19.09 @ 7:47 PM
You were right about F1, even though when i press F1 it does literally nothing, I still can’t assign it as the dictionary function! it’s a bit frustrating, especially when I could do this with no problem in 10.5. I was able to “assign” other key combinations to the dictionary check, but even though it’s displayed as the key assignment for “look up in dictionary”, it still only responds to control+apple+D. I tried a number of key combinations using apple (most are already taken) and option and control. None of them have any effect, even though it is shown as being assigned. Any other ideas? Or is this just a bug (I have 10.6.2) that they haven’t ironed out yet?Comment by sasha 11.20.09 @ 12:23 AM
@sasha, “Look Up In Dictionary” is a *somewhat* deeper service than most. I use an application that I rely on day and and day out called Keyboard Maestro for full automation of all keyboard related commands.
You can take it very far, having it act on a selection, copy it, change it, paste it, move on to some other chunk of text, take your changed result, and replace your original result. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is an application switcher, multiple clipboard hander, as well as a multi purpose action recorder. Anything you do in repetition, this application will help you with.
That little plug for a great app aside, and keep in mind, they are coming out shortly with version 4, which I am not sure at what liberties I am allowed to speak of, but any 3.5 purchase today will get you version 4 for free when it is released.
At any rate, I have this feeling that you may have a working keyboard shortcut, and you just need to quit the app you want it to work in. Also, keep in mind, not all apps work with the floating dictionary. Use something like TextEdit, which we know works, as your testing ground. Make sure you quit the app and then test, and make sure you are applying the shortcut to all apps, and not just a specific one. For good measure, close out the System Pref Pane as well; though I computer restart certainly should not be needed.
I currently do not have Snow as a easy means to test, sorry for that.
I have used keyboard Maestro to work a little different with the dictionary, in that sometimes I type a word that I do not know what means, and can spawn a lookup of that word after the fact.
Take for example the word circumlocution, I did that all with no mouse!
Video of Keyboard Maestro Macro I made, in working use.
(Well, sort of, I had to use the mouse since I was in video recording.)
You very well could have ran into a bug. It may be worth it to just force the muscle memory aside, and learn the built in keyboard commands for the floating dictionaryComment by Scott Haneda 11.21.09 @ 2:25 AM
Well…looks like this site is dead.Comment by Dante 11.23.09 @ 11:04 AM
@Dante than you for your comment, and thank you for using an anonymous email address. That added much value to the other readers of the site.
For those of you reading the above comment, it has been quite obvious, and stated in every email or comment in which we are asked, that no new posts are making it to the site.
However, every email, and every comment has been replied to, as the date on every email and every comment shows, we are quite active on keeping up to date on anything that concerns the site as it stands.
However, no new posts have been made, as I have not had time to write any new posts, given my current work schedule. But we do certainly appreciate your support!Comment by Scott Haneda 11.23.09 @ 7:13 PM
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Just brilliant – was looking around for an OSX Oscar for the trash and saw this. This feels like one of those easter eggs that used to be hidden in the OS all those years ago (little messages and dog/cows and stuff) and made you feel elated when you discovered something cool and new!
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I’m surpirised at how similar this site is to thehowtosource.com!!!!!Comment by A 06.04.10 @ 5:18 PM
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You can create a right click shortcut.
-open dictionary and go to preferances
*(command – ,)*shortcut
-under apple dictionary click
-find the radio button “opens dictionary panel”Comment by DAN 05.03.11 @ 6:04 AM
Just found out: In Safari on a MacBook with Touchpad a “tribble-click” with three fingers on the word of your desire will do the trick tooComment by Dan 01.31.12 @ 10:47 AM