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NOTE: This question was composed in an attempt to follow Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions. I hope I do not fail them too hard, but if you see how the question can be improved please edit it or let us discuss it on chat or meta. Apologies if I failed searching and if this is a duplicate.

There are two sites that I most commonly use as a first stop when looking up words online:

  • onelook, the reasons are that, for example, looking up a word "dictionary" gives not only quick and short definition (from macmillan), but also links to 44 other dictionaries and to etymonline

  • wordnik, the reasons for this one are that it gives you immediately on the results page definitions and examples from a few dictionaries that you can compare, however it does not give links directly (compare a lookup for "dictionary" - it gives definitions from four dictionaries, reformatted to consistent look and some examples)

(Both of these are aggregating from different sources, but similiar reasons could be given for specific dictionary sites).

I would like to find out which other dictionaries or sites people are using as the first stop (regardless if they are aggregators or specific dictionaries) and why (in a sense of how or when they would be best used)?

Please one site per answer.

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related english.stackexchange.com/questions/1482/… –  Unreason Jul 5 '11 at 13:27
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Wiktionary

Why?

  • Lists common misspellings, like compatability and noone.
  • Clean layout
  • No abbreviations to decode
  • Simple URLs. For example, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/compatability
  • Multilingual (even though it is very sketchy in many non-English languages)
  • In-place correction of any mistakes in the dictionary (it is a wiki)
  • Comprehensive coverage of initialisms and Internet terms and slang. Examples: BTW and Google-fu.
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The concept is great, but the execution...I don't know...as someone else said here on ELU, Wiktionary is little better than Urban Dictionary. –  Mitch Jul 1 '11 at 14:13
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I don't agree with statement "Wiktionary is little better than Urban Dictionary". They are two very different things. –  Peter Mortensen Jul 1 '11 at 16:46
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Urban dictionary is full of completely incorrect definitions, and I use it purely for amusement. I often use Wiktionary as a serious part of my word research. –  Vincent McNabb Jul 2 '11 at 12:25
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To find the meaning of English words, for synonyms and discovering new English words, I use WordReference. Mainly because it is the one I've been told about, and that its features are the one I need. It has a very simple and efficient interface.

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Google: rather than their suggested "define:syzygy" (for example), I just use:

definition syzygy

This tends to get a first hit that is not a link but just a single definition, but then it gives a number of definitions from very different sources (dictionary.com, merriam Webster, freedictionary, wiktionary, et al.). The benefits to this approach are:

  • you get the benefits of many results quickly.
  • you can see the nuances of definition when different.
  • you can see which dictionaries have the same source (when the same)

The problem is that it avoids more in depth analysis where more directed clicking is necessary, and it is harder to differentiate quality (it's not always obvious when Urban Dictionary is the source or MW).

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The Oxford English Dictionary is indispensable for any serious inquiry about English, but it requires subscription. Those in the UK can have a free subscription through their county libraries. It provides authoritative and unmatched information on a word’s etymology, pronunciation and meaning. Definitions are supported by citations showing how words have been used since their first appearance.

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