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Friday 29 July 2011
A Discovery

Filed under Announcements

This post is for Mac users, chiefly. And especially those Mac users who are writers. A couple years ago, I blogged about my beloved Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, and how it includes little bits of copy about words and their usage by writers like David Foster Wallace, Francine Prose, Zadie Smith, Simon Winchester, and the composer Stephin Merritt (among others). I bought a copy online and keep it always near my desk.

Did you know everyone already has a copy on his or her Mac?

It’s part of the built-in dictionary. Type in a word, click on “Thesaurus” in the little bar above, and you’ll get the word-for-word entry from this book I paid money for.

Better yet, it also has all the “Word Notes” by these writers. For instance, this DFW gem:

pulchritude
A paradoxical noun because it means beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language. Same goes for the adjectival form pulchritudinous. They’re part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the very opposite of the qualities they denote. Diminutive, big, foreign, fancy (adjective), colloquialism, and monosyllabic are some others; there are at least a dozen more. Inviting your school-age kids to list as many paradoxical words as they can is a neat way to deepen their relationship to English and help them see that words are both symbols for things and very real things themselves.
— DFW

Here, as a public service, is the list of words with notes by DFW:

as, all of, beg, bland, critique, dialogue, dysphesia, effete, feckless, fervent, focus, hairy, if, impossibly, individual, loan, mucous, myriad, noma (at canker), privilege, pulchritude (at beauty), that, toward, unique, utilize.

Something else I can’t help but quote, from his entry on that:

It so happens that you can occupy a bright child for most of a very quiet morning by challenging her to use that five times in a row in a single coherent sentence, to which stumper the solution is all about the present distinction: He said that that that that that writer used should really have been a which.

Built-in dictionaries and thesauri are historically sucky, right? (MS Word, I’m looking in your direction.) The OAWT is hands-down the best thesaurus I’ve seen. And Apple just gives it to people for free, with purchase. I’ve been saying a lot of bad things about Apple lately, but now I think I take them all back.

2011-07-29  ::  dave

Talkback x 17

  1. Seth Madej
    29 July 2011 @ 12:56pm

    Is that screenshot from Safari? OAWT and OAWD have been used in the Dictionary widget for years, but how did you get them to show up in Safari?

    Also, I disagree about your love of that book. I also have a hard copy which I abandoned when it showed up digitally in OS X, but the widget’s still my main resource. I like the word usage notes a lot, but I find a better selection of synonyms even in the free online thesauri.

  2. rd
    21 August 2012 @ 1:32pm

    Duplicate post without links.

    NeXT Computer had built-in Webster’s dictionary and thesaurus with picture way back in 1990s.
    So Mac inherited that from NeXT.
    It even came with Complete works of William Shakespeare.

  3. Ryan Bell
    21 August 2012 @ 1:46pm

    Was hoping there was a key somewhere to the initials on these notes. Obviously based on this post I know who DFW is, but what about DA, as in the note that’s linked from “pulchritude”.

    I haven’t found such a key… but, in the process of looking for it, I uncovered another semi-hidden gem: language and reference information as you’d find in a printed dictionary.

    In the dictionary app, select Go > Front/Back Matter > New Oxford American Dictionary. You get the typical stuff like credits, introduction, an pronunciation key, but also a nice reference section that includes guides to spelling, grammar, and proofreading, a history of English, a copy of the US Constitution, weights and measures (poorly formatted, unfortunately), and some other nifty reference material.

  4. Charlie Bng
    21 August 2012 @ 1:52pm

    The delicious task of using that five times in a row reminded me of this little gem:

    In the writing test 10 years ago, Frank had had had, while Michael had had had had. Had had had had the teacher’s approval, and Frank never forgot.

    A bit too cute, rally, but I like the fact that it makes sense.

    BTW, I’m using Version 2.2.3 (118.5) of the Dictionary, and a bunch of thesaurus entries either don’t show up. Weird eh?

  5. Christian
    21 August 2012 @ 1:52pm

    You can find Stephin Merritt’s Word Notes when you look up “love” or “romance” (as I expected).

  6. Charlie Bing
    21 August 2012 @ 1:54pm

    Man, I can’t tie today. It’s Charlie Bing with an “i” and I meant to write really not rally.

  7. Zimmie
    21 August 2012 @ 4:24pm

    @Charlie Bng: I’ll do you one better!

    James, while John had had “had”, had had “had had”. “Had had” had had a better effect on the teacher.

    And of course, “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.”

  8. Step
    22 August 2012 @ 1:05am

    It appears you can extract the dictionary files from a snow leopard instal disk (Mac OS X Install DVD/System/Installation/Packages/OxfordDictionaries.pkg) rename them and and copy them into the the dictionary folder (/Library/Dictionaries). You’ll see double entries for all the words, but it seems to work.

  9. David Foster Wallace Lives Inside the Thesaurus on Your Mac - GalleyCat
    22 August 2012 @ 10:35am

    [...] Dave Madden explained how to access the extra material in a post: “It’s part of the built-in dictionary. Type in a word, click on “Thesaurus” in the [...]

  10. Bill Read
    22 August 2012 @ 4:58pm

    The Word Notes are indeed still in Mountain Lion. I think some are confused because of your example: pulchritude. If you look up pulchritude in the Thesaurus, you will not see these notes — indeed, you won’t find it at all in the Thesaurus.

    Do this: Look up beauty in the Thesaurus. Bingo.

  11. Alex Brown
    23 August 2012 @ 11:12pm

    You lost me at “Type in a word, click on “Thesaurus” in the little bar above”

    Where do I type? The screen shot shows an application called Thesaurus, but how do I summon it on my Mac? I searched and found the file(s), but no application. I know this is a dumb question, but I really have no clue about making this neat discovery work.

  12. Tyler
    25 August 2012 @ 12:53pm

    Alex: that’s the Dictionary app with the Thesaurus tab selected.

    Go to Finder, open the Applications folder, and double-click the Dictionary app to launch it. Then select the Thesaurus tab in the smaller tab bar beneath the larger toolbar.

  13. DFW Usage « The Hyperarchival Parallax
    3 September 2012 @ 7:31am

    [...] I will be teaching all of Strunk & White followed by DFW’s “Authority and American Usage” to a freshman Composition course in a few weeks, and will probably be becoming a bit of a usage weenie for the next few weeks, so this little find from MetaFilter, that provides a .pdf of DFW’s “Word Notes” (among others) from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus was a particularly good find today. (I guess this is especially popping up on Mac OS X’s native Dictionary app.) [...]

  14. Stanley Kubrick’s Go-To Perspective in Film | Word and Film
    4 September 2012 @ 12:39pm

    [...] you know that your Mac’s built-in dictionary contains “Word Notes,” comments on certain words pulled from texts by authors like David Foster Wallace? Or at least, it [...]

  15. Celebrate David Foster Wallace’s Birthday With Your Thesaurus - GalleyCat
    21 February 2013 @ 2:00pm

    [...] Dave Madden explained how to access the extra material in a post: “It’s part of the built-in dictionary. Type in a word, click on ‘Thesaurus’ in [...]

  16. Celebrate David Foster Wallace’s Birthday With Your Thesaurus | Salinger Publishing
    21 February 2013 @ 2:50pm

    [...] Dave Madden explained how to access the extra material in a post: “It’s part of the built-in dictionary. Type in a word, click on ‘Thesaurus’ in the little [...]

  17. Marco Kaye
    24 June 2013 @ 1:51pm

    To answer Ryan Bell’s question, it looks like DA (I was wondering this myself) is David Auburn, author of many plays, including “Proof,” which was adapted into a movie. I based this on the fact that he is in the printed edition: http://www.amazon.com/American-Writers-Thesaurus-Christine-Lindberg/dp/0195342844

    I liked his word note about “quirky.”

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