Regular Daily Writing Tips readers know that I often extol Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the dictionary of record for the American publishing industry. Despite its apparent casual acceptance of nonstandard spellings, it’s an authoritative resource — as is its Internet version, Merriam-Webster Online. But plenty of alternatives exist; here are five interesting and helpful variations on the lexicographical theme.
1. The Alpha Dictionary
This portal features links to hundreds of foreign-language dictionaries and glossaries, as well as numerous specialty dictionaries and glossaries covering specific subjects like chocolate, jewelry, and weather, and more resources like thesauruses and collections of quotations.
2. The Free Dictionary
Enter a word at The Free Dictionary, and you’ll get not only definitions from various dictionaries but also citations of the word in quotations, a translation tool to find the word’s foreign-language equivalents, and lists of related terms. The site also has starts-with and ends-with search functions and an option to call up a list of terms in which a particular word appears in the definition. In addition, you can look up acronyms and idioms and search encyclopedias, foreign-language dictionaries, and specialized dictionaries.
This dictionary offers more than just definitions of words you type in; it also enables a variety of tip-of-the-tongue searches: To return words and phrases beginning or ending in a certain word, type in that word followed by or preceding an asterisk, or type the first couple of letters of a word followed by a colon and any complete word to produce a list of words and phrases starting with those letters that pertain to that word. (For example, at:air brings up not only atmosphere but also “attic fan” and atomization.) Or, precede an acronym or initialism with expand: to find phrases these abbreviations stand for, and more.
Wordnik collects definitions from numerous other dictionary websites, as well as displaying online citations of the word to provide context.
This plain-English resource provides easy-to-understand definitions. For example, the meaning of atmosphere, rendered at Merriam-Webster Online as “the gaseous envelope of a celestial body (as a planet), the whole mass of air surrounding the earth, the air of a locality, a surrounding influence or environment, the overall aesthetic effect of a work of art, an intriguing or singular tone, effect, or appeal” here is explained as follows: “the area of air and gas enveloping objects in space, like stars and planets, or the air around any location,” or “an overall feeling and/or effect of a place, specially if it is an environment of pleasure or interest.” This site also provides links to other dictionaries as well as other resources.