NaNoWriMo is upon us, and if you’re a writer, this is one tool you must have in your arsenal. I have been using WordWeb for as long as I can remember and it’s among the first few programs I install on any new PC.
WordWeb is a dictionary and thesaurus tool for Windows, iOS and Android. And if you thought that the new Windows 8’s global dictionary reduces a need for this, think again. WordWeb is infinitely more user-friendly, features several more options and is just as unobtrusive while doing all that.
It Starts With Installation
When you are installing WordWeb the first time, at the point where it asks you to specify the folder and whether or not to “Install for all users”, you will see a button for Advanced Options. Here, you can choose to install WordWeb as a portable app, as well as whether or not you want to it to always run on the system tray. Just like the software, I highly recommend you keep it running. Whether or not you want it as a portable app is up to you; it works perfectly fine either way.
Next, choose the default English locale so that WordWeb will set its language accordingly. Choices include International, Britain, New Zealand, America, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Ireland and Asia. I went in with Britain, as a matter of honour. Of course, this can be changed in the future if you need to.
By default, WordWeb assigns itself a hotkey – Ctrl+Alt+W – for the program to pop up whenever you want to refer any word. I found this a bit cumbersome given how often I use WordWeb and have changed it to just Alt+W, an easy-to-reach keyboard combination that I never find myself hitting otherwise.
There is also the ‘one-click look up’ option for references with a mouse. Choose a modifier key (Shift, Alt or Ctrl) and the mouse button (Left, Midde or Right). Press the combo on any textual word on your screen and WordWeb will instantly pop up with its definition. You can customize these hotkeys or disable them by right-clicking the system tray icon for WordWeb.
Usage & Performance
Once WordWeb is sitting quietly in the system tray, it is slowly going to become your most loyal friend. Whether you’re reading an article on the web, writing a blog post in Word, or just going through that long PDF file, all you have to do is select a word and hit your hotkey to bring up WordWeb, ready with the definition. Of course, you can also use the hotkey to start a blank search for any word.
The little window that WordWeb offers has pretty much everything you would possibly need about that word.
The main pane shows you the word, its type (noun, adjective, verb, etc. – all of which can be filtered with buttons on the side), a phonetic spelling for pronunciation, and its meanings, along with a usage of the word according to each definitely. Along with this, you get derivatives of the word as well.
There’s also an icon on the top-right corner of a speaker, which will read the word out aloud for the correct pronunciation.
But it’s the second pane, below the first one, that’s the real winner for WordWeb. You can quickly look up synonyms and antonyms (clicking on which will display a definition for them, and their own list of synonyms and antonyms), Type Of (relatable categories that the referred word may be found in) and Types (other things that the word might indicate, but aren’t definitions). There’s also another tab called “Nearest”, which displays the words alphabetically closest to it in the dictionary – a feature I love and regularly rely on when trying to come up with catchy slogans or headlines. The dictionary also includes some phrases, so if it’s a phrase you’re looking for, it’s quite helpful.
WordWeb also lets you quickly look up the word on online resources through tabs. These tabs are basically mini-browsers that automatically search for the word. Currently, the supported websites include Wikipedia, Wikitionary and Wordweb Online.
Bookmarks & Random Words
Apart from reference, WordWeb is great to learn about the English language. When you come across a new and interesting word, you can add it as a bookmark. The software keeps a list of everything you’ve added, which you can view at any point, or go back to by clicking the ‘Random’ option.
And if you want to learn new words, WordWeb helps you out by showing you new, random words (separate from your bookmark list). Just hit Ctrl+R or the button under ‘View’ in the menu bar to expand your vocabulary.
What It’s Missing
There’s very little that WordWeb doesn’t deliver on, given the wide variety of features it currently packs. But there are still a few things that mar the experience.
The lack of auto correction has to be the top in this list. Suppose you think of a word, but aren’t sure how it is spelt. If you type out a spelling that you think is right, but is in fact incorrect, then the program doesn’t auto-correct it to give you the right option. It’s something we have come to rely on with Google, so it ends up being a hindrance here.
Another factor where the app falls short is etymology. Any wordsmith will tell you that knowing the roots of how a word came into existence is essential to understanding the language; but WordWeb has no option to gain this information.
Of course, the lack of phrases and idioms it currently has in its dictionary is also a problem, but these have slowly increased over the years, and should only get better as time passes.
Despite these shortcomings, I would heartily recommend WordWeb to anyone and everyone. You don’t have to be a writer to want to use it; it’s useful when you’re reading anything at all on your computer and need to look up a word. And since it’s so unobtrusive, there is no reason to not install it – you never know when it’s going to be a handy tool to have.