Secrets to using Mac OS X Tiger’s built-in Dictionary with Safari

[This article was originally published on May 3, 2005 and has been brought to the top of the list by recent requests from numerous MacDailyNews readers.]

Users of Apple’s new Mac OSX 10.4 Tiger operating system may have already figured out that if they highlight any word displayed as text in Apple’s Safari 2.0 (and other Tiger apps that handle text like TextEdit, for example) and Control-Click (right click for multi-button mouse users) the highlighted word, they can choose “Look Up in Dictionary” from the resulting Contextual Menu. Tiger Safari users, try it now on any word on this page.

That’s a pretty nice feature, but did you know that if you simply place your cursor over any word and press Command-Control-D, the Dictionary definition will just pop right up? Click “More” to launch the Dictionary (and Thesaurus) application itself and use the “Oxford Dictionary / Oxford Thesaurus” drop down menu to switch between the two.

Now for the ultimate: Hold down Command-Control-D as you move your cursor over multiple words and watch what happens! (Bonus secret: you can let go of the D key and as long as you continue holding Command-Control, it’ll keep working.) Even better yet, open the Keyboard & Mouse system prefs’ Keyboard Shortcuts. Assign an unused function key like F7 to “Look Up in Dictionary.” Now, just hit F7 to toggle the Dictionary feature “on” and and start mousing around the page. Hit F7 again to turn it off.

The system-wide Dictionary works in Safari’s text input boxes, too. So, no more misused, misspelled words for Tiger Safari users in your Reader Feedback comments, okay?

[UPDATE: May 3, 2005, 2:03pm ET: Thanks to MDN reader “Fork Ball” for alerting us to a QuickTime 7 (H.264) movie of the feature in action that’s posted over at Users with QuickTime 7 who might not yet have Tiger can see how the feature works here.]


  1. This feature seems to work in a whole load of applications including TextEdit, Mail and Stickies and iWork. Also if you use select the Thesaurus function, that works as well where appropriate.

    Leave it to Apple to come up with a system-level dictionary/thesaurus that actually works, although I have a vague recollection that the Next dictionary/thesaurus function was quite good.

  2. Fabulous little feature. It actually works with most mac apps that handle text, such as text edit and mail. What apple needs to do is to incorporate the dictionary into the contextual menu, so you can operate it without the hot keys, which are cumbersome

  3. HDL,

    Mail and TextEdit do have “Look Up in Dictionary” in a highlighted word’s contextual menu! Just highlight and Control-Click (right click for multi-button mouse users) on a word in Mail or textEdit to see it work.

  4. I just read this hint over at MacOSXHints, and while selecting a word and pressing Control pops up the dictionary, the cursor hover thing with Command-Control-D doesn’t work in Safari for me, but it works in TextEdit and other Cocoa apps. What gives?

  5. Just put your mouse on a word (no need to select) and do “Ctrl + Cmd + D”.

    Then, if you continue to hold down the control and cmd keys and move the cursor to other words, you can see the dictionary in action on the other words as well. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />


  6. IT guy,

    Thanks, but that’s exactly what I’m doing and it still doesn’t work in Safari, but it works in TextEdit. I’m puzzled as to why it’s not working.

  7. This feature gets even better. If you go into your dictionary application and change the preferences of the contextual menu behavior, the same little “preview window” appears when you choose “Look Up In Dictionary”! No separate application launching anymore!

  8. Viridian, was not working for me either but I am in Dvorak. Using instead Dvorak – Qwerty clover works. Maybe an issue with different keyboard layout?o

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