The Right Dictionary

A couple of years ago, I wrote about James Somers’ beautiful post on why you are probably using the wrong dictionary. The right dictionary, it turns out, is the 1913 + 1828 Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. You can read my original post and Somers’ to find out why that’s true.

Sadly, the University of Chicago site that those posts mentioned and that the DuckDuckGo bang shortcut !webster took you to is now offline. It’s even disappeared from DNS so I’m losing hope that it will return. I emailed the responsible folks but have not heard back from them. All we can do is check back with the site once in a while.

Well, actually we can do more. Marcin Borkowski (mbork) was a user of the dictionary and displeased with its demise. Fortunately, he’s figured out a way to download the dictionary and read the StarDict format that it’s encoded in. Even better, he’s figured out how to read it from Emacs. It’s pretty straightforward. You just download the files, unzip them into ~/.stardict/dic, install the sdcv application, and finally install the sdcv-mode package for Emacs. Even if you’re not an Emacs user you can use sdcv as a command line tool.

The only hassle is sdcv. If you’re on a Mac like me it’s hard to get compiled. That’s most likely because I’m using Clang rather than gcc. Happily it’s available with Homebrew and the link even tells you how to load Homebrew if you don’t already have it.

If I learn anything more about the original site, I’ll make a followup post. In the meantime, mbork’s solution is probably better because it’s integrated into Emacs and you have a local copy so you don’t have to worry about sites going offline. If you only occasionally use the dictionary and don’t want to bother loading a local copy, you can find sites offering the 1913 version. Here’s an example. I haven’t found a site offering both versions like the University of Chicago site did.

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