Dictionary, Dictionary, Dictionary, And More

I have a friend who loves words and the subtle variations in meaning they can convey.

She got a dictionary of synonyms as a gift for college; Merriam Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms: A Dictionary of Discriminated Synonyms With Antonyms and Analogous and Contrasted Words. The title's a mouthful, and I know that sounds like a strange gift, but not for someone who really enjoys words. Her copy was copyrighted in 1978. She showed it to me recently and I can see why she holds on to it and enjoys it so much. It isn't so much a dictionary or thesaurus as it is a book of subtleties. It lists words which have a similar core meanings, but it's the differences and usages that make the synonym listings so interesting.

Take the word 'pour' for instance. It lists typical synonyms like 'flow' and 'stream', and also more arcane words like 'gush' and 'sluice', and it also offers up the often vague differences.

Pour means to bring forth, usually a liquid, the act of bringing forth or dispensing a liquid, as in, "Pour more coffee for everyone, please."

Gush denotes a more energetic act, a sudden and plentiful outflow as in, "The sudden gush of air from the open window surprised her."

Here's the really interesting one: Sluice means to stream or allow to stream over or through something, as through a channel. You could use 'sluice' to describe water or liquid running over something in narrow streams.

"She stood, panting as rivulets of sweat and rain sluiced down her neck and joined to form a sparkling stream that coursed its way through the valley between her full, heaving…"

You get the idea.

I'm a fan of words as well, though, admittedly, I don't use them well enough, but I can get my thoughts across to the reader, and I suppose that's a good thing.

When I read I almost always run into a word or two that I've never seen before or I'm not sure about the definition. It use to suck when that happened while away from home because I would typically forget about looking up the word by the time I settle in.

The naked iPhone lacks a good dictionary, or any dictionary for that matter. It does on-the-fly spell checking, which is cool and a finger saver as I find that it guesses what I mean to type most of the time, but there's no way to get a definition of a word, or examine those subtle, but important differences so that I can say what I truly mean to say when I text while driving. (Kidding, of course. You should never text while driving.)

One of the first apps I bought was a dictionary and thesaurus; WordBook from TransCreative Software. It has over 150,000 entries, but that's not what got me to buy it. I liked the cross-linking of words that appear in the definitions and thesaurus listings.

In my above example, when I look up 'pour' I get a nice list of definitions. I can touch any of those words to define them, and I can easily go back to the original word. It's pretty sweet.

Some words include an audio pronunciation guide. If you're not sure how to spell a word just start typing it in and suggestions will appear. There are a bunch of other features, but the ones I mentioned are the ones I use a lot and I think it's two bucks well spent.

This column is about free stuff, however, and two bucks is two bucks too much to spend on a dictionary. That's OK because there are several good, and free, dictionaries at the iTunes store.

The first one I'll talk about is my least favorite of the three, but it's a good app nonetheless: Dictionary! from Hampton Catlin.

The good thing about Dictionary! is that it has over 200,000 word listings, it's easy to read and it's fast. Dictionary! is self contained so you don't need an Internet connection to get definitions, however, if you need broader definitions you can opt to go online and query Wiktionary. Not bad for a freebie.

Dictionary! has a clean interface that is burdened by a sizable ad banner that demands your attention. I understand that people need to make money, but I think the ad banner is a bit too much.

The other not so great feature is its overly simplistic lists of definitions. Each separate definition is surrounded by a blue box (Why?) and to see them all to you need to scroll up the screen and flick through them. There's no cross reference, no thesaurus, no audio or text pronunciations, and no homonym reference.

When I looked up 'pour' the definitions I got were not the greatest, only the most common use cases were shown and the associated examples were nearly useless in explaining the differences..

Again, Dictionary! is not my favorite, but it's good for a quick reference, if that's all you need.

If you need a bit more from a dictionary then WordWeb may be what you're looking for. This is one of my favorite free dictionaries and I keep it, along with WordBook, as a reference.

Like WordBook and Dictionary!, WordWeb also has a built in word database so that you don't need an Internet connection to get a definition, and like WordBook, WordWeb's definition and thesaurus listings are cross referenced, so all you need to do is select a word in the listing and the definitions for that word appears. If you see the little ear symbol next to a word it means that the word is a homonym (like pour, poor, and pore). Words appearing in the black tab are those that may be what you are trying to spell. For instance, as I type in 'pour' words that kind of sound or is spelled similar to what I'm typing appears.

WordWeb is configurable so that you can see as much or as little information as you what. For instance, you can turn off examples, derived forms of the word, or synonyms. You can also set the version of English displayed (American, Australian, British, or Canadian).

Over 285,000 words and phrases are defined in WordWeb, and if that isn't enough you can use the X-Ref to get online definitions.

Thankfully, there are no ads.

The only problem with WordWeb is that its listings include the definitions mixed in with the synonyms, which can make it tougher to get the full sense of the subtle differences in the synonyms. For instance, 'pour' does not show 'gush' or 'sluice' as synonyms in the base form of the word. You have to search through each of the different definitions to find the synonyms for those sense cases. In WordBook, I can hit the thesaurus tab and see all the synonyms and then touch them to get each definition. Very convenient.

There are also no audio pronunciations, though the text based pronunciation keys are good and welcomed.

It's hard to find a better free dictionary on any platform as good a WordWeb.

Of course, there are those who would argue that Dictionary.com's Dictionary is a better option, and I can see why.

Dictionary has all of the great features of both WordBook and WordWeb, and it's based on the renowned Random House Dictionary. It has over 275,000 word and phrase definitions and does not require an Internet connection to work.

Dictionary offers audio pronunciations, a separate thesaurus, and even gives word origins and obscure usages.

This could easily be my favorite dictionary app because it does so much stuff so well. The definitions are easy to understand with relevant examples, there's a written pronunciation key, and everything is easy to see.

Of course, there are few diamonds that contain no flaws, and Dictionary's glaring flaw is that the definition and thesaurus listings are not cross referenced. This means you have to cut and paste a word from either list if you want to get its definition. That's not hard to do, it's just extra steps that makes Dictionary a bit of a chore to use. For me, a cross referenced thesaurus is very handy while writing, so that feature is important to me. You may not care, and if not then you have found your dictionary.

Dictionary is a great free app that rivals many of the paid dictionary apps available.

So, there you have it. Three useable dictionaries that are yours from free. Get yours.

OK, that's a wrap for this week. More free stuff below with direct links.