Choose the dictionary for Spotlight’s definitions in Leopard

Rob Griffiths
13 May, 2009
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When you run a Spotlight search in OS X 10.5 (using the Spotlight icon in the menu bar), the system will return dictionary entries in addition to the matches it finds on your system. (If you dislike this behaviour, this hint explains how to disable it, as well as Spotlight’s calculator feature.)

While you may have known about this Spotlight feature, did you know that you have some control over exactly what Spotlight returns for the dictionary results?

For instance, say you’re a writer for a Mac-centric Web site, and you don’t often need word definitions, but you do need different ways to say the same word—computer or file, for example. In such a case, you’d be more interested in what’s found in a thesaurus than what’s found in a dictionary.

Or consider that you’re trying to learn a foreign language, and you’d like to be able to type a non-native word into Spotlight’s search box and see the native definition on the screen.

The definition that appears in Spotlight’s results list is pulled from the Dictionary application. More particularly, it’s pulled from the first entry in the list that appears in Dictionary’s preferences. So if you’d rather see entries from the thesaurus in Spotlight’s results list, open Dictionary’s preferences, and drag Thesaurus to the top of the list. Similarly, if you’d like to see the Japanese version of an English word, drag Japanese-English to the top of the list (and enable it, if it’s not already enabled).

The only exception appears to be the non-standard Wikipedia dictionary, probably because this isn’t a dictionary file at all, but a simple front-end that sends a query to wikipedia.org and displays the results.

As a side hint, if you’d like to install additional dictionaries into Dictionary, this article at makeuseof.com explains how to find other existing dictionary files, and how to convert certain other dictionaries into a format that Apple’s Dictionary app can read. If that’s not enough for you, you can write your own, assuming you’ve got Xcode installed and a few hundred hours of free time.

Thanks to Mac OS X Hints readers Sesquipedalian and Andrew Jung for today’s tip.

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