I know, I have previously talked in one of my blogs about online dictionaries and particularly visual online dictionary (see “Word Mapping : a new kind of dictionary”) but once again, words lover as I am, I must introduce you to my latest discovery in the world of online dictionaries. Maybe it is the clean cut design that attracted me or the name’s logo, designed after a most famous city motto, but I was love-struck on the first sight. One single word on a blank page : Wordnik.
Even if the design already had my heart melting, I wasn’t expecting much. I thought I had just bumped again onto one of these obscure search engines and that my love affair would be nothing more than a short lived fling. Especially the heading under the search tool claiming “I always feel lucky” didn’t impress me much. But anyway, I was there so why not give it a try.
And then, I heard little angel voices singing behind me. My love was true and Cloud 9 was getting closer with every brush on my keyboard. This was just the beginning of a long lasting love affair between me and Wordnik. Poor Thesaurus.com, he would surely be jealous. But who was that Wordnik?
Inspired by words’ lover, Erin McKean, Wordnik is the world’s biggest dictionary site. It was launched in 2009 following an idea first exposed during a TedTalk in 2007. As Erin McKean wanted it, the dictionary is not conventional, it evolves with the world surrounding it, new words being added as needed.
What is interesting about Wordnik is that is does not have the static design of traditional dictionaries. The information provided for each word is a combination of more conventional references and new technologies such as Twitter. It has everything, visual and “intellectual”, at the same place which makes it a very easy tool for the students to use in school. The descriptions provided come from traditional references such as the American Heritage and Roget’s II and Century Dictionary but also from more modern tools like Wiktionary or Wordnet. Following the definitions, numerous examples of the word put into context are presented with sources from the Whole World Web accessible by clicking on the links. Wordnik, like other dictionaries, gives the etymology, synonyms and antonyms of each word but what really makes Wordnik so different from its dictionaries’ siblings are the categories such as rhymes (words having the same terminal sound), reversal dictionary (words containing the looked up word in their definition) or tagged (words tagged with as having the meaning of the looked up word) that may be found in the word’s entry. It also offers visual support, with beautiful images taken from Flickr which unfortunately leads to one down point : the images are not always 100% related to the word searched for. Finally, an audio reference is provided, with the pronunciation of the word and in some cases, a sound effect for the word.
As highlighted by another WordPress blogger in his article “Wordnik: A (Somewhat) Anthropomorphic Review Of A Dictionary”, the little plus that this dictionary offers and one of the main attraction of Wordnik is the little “unuseful” but how interesting general information sentence offered at the end of the page, telling how many times the word has been looked up, how many people actually “love” that word, how many Wordnik user have added that word to their list, how many times it has been commented on and the my most favorite as for many other Wordnik fans, the number of points that word scores at Scrabble!
After such a charming introduction, I decided to bring my relation with Wordnik to another level. Completely free of charge, I created an account, making the customization of my Wordnik possible. I can now add comments or tags, only viewable by myself, to certain words, “like” specific words (the principle is a bit similar to Facebook), create lists of my favorite words or add a sound effect to a word. It is a bit too early to say if my relation to Wordnik will last forever, but for the moment, I am amazed by its qualities and can only say one thing: I’m hooked and in love head over heels!
“People say to me, ‘How do I know if a word is real?’ You know, anybody who’s read a children’s book knows that love makes things real. If you love a word, use it. That makes it real.”