A long time favourite of the Digi-Lifestyles crew, WordWeb is a free, cut-down version of the WordWeb Pro software, and includes a comprehensive English thesaurus and dictionary with the ability to look up words from within external programs.
Originally an add-on for the Crossword Compiler application, WordWeb has developed into a formidable stand-alone product, regularly updated with new words and senses.
Once installed, the program lurks in your Windows system tray and can be activated from within almost any program.
Simply highlight the word you need a definition for and either click the system tray icon or use the default keyboard shortcut of CTRL+ALT+W.
Quick as a flash, WordWeb pops up with a dictionary definition of your highlighted word, often supplemented by a sample sentence demonstrating the correct usage of the word.
Seeing as we haven’t got over our childish habit of typing in naughty words into dictionary, we tried it out with the British slang word, ‘minger:’
1. (slang) a physically undesirable, smelly, or ugly person
“It wasn’t ’til we woke, the next morning, that I realised quite what a minger she was. I left pretty damn sharpish before she asked for my phone”
The program can also be used to look up word definitions and alternative synonyms or antonyms – you could, for example, look up “tree”, click on the “Types” tab and you’ll be presented with a list of different types of tree.
Click on “Part of” and the program will tell you that a tree can be part of a “forest” or “wood” (in case you weren’t sure).
Clicking on the “Replace” button will let you swap the highlighted word in your document with a listed synonym or you can keep on exploring alternatives by clicking on words to view more synonyms and definitions.
The WordWeb database boasts more than 156,000 root works and 124,000 synonym sets and is based on Princeton’s WordNet project, with the developers making “many thousands of corrections and additions to this base.”
The program – which comes in regionalised flavours – can also access the web to offer a web search of the highlighted word or link to a site with translation capabilities.
The $19 Pro version adds 6,000 more definitions and offers extra features like wildcard word search, full text definition search, custom glossaries and optional word lists
Notably, the UK-developed WordWeb is also one of the very few references that works with screen reader software for the blind – kudos to the authors.