Tech for Writers: custom dictionary search from your browser

Did you know about the Google trick where you can get the definition of any word by searching for “define <word>”?


It’s a neat trick, and the result that Google gives you includes their ultra cool “use over time” feature, sometimes.


But if you’re like me, you may have a favorite dictionary. (Mine is Merriam-Webster.) Wouldn’t it be a great writing tool if you could somehow program a web browser like Google Chrome so that when you search for “define <word>” you get the result from your favorite dictionary?

Here’s how to do it!

First, go to your favorite dictionary and search for a word. When the results page comes up, pay particular attention to the URL — the website address. You will need this soon.


Next you have to go into Chrome settings. Click the hamburger icon near the top, or use the keyboard, Luke and enter chrome://settings/searchEngines into the address bar. The browser will open a short list of “Default search settings” and a likely very long list of “Other search engines.”


Scroll all the way to the bottom of this window and you’ll see three text boxes.


In these three boxes, enter a name for the search engine (anything you want), the keyword you want to use (in this case: define), and finally the “URL with %s in place of query.” What’s that? That’s the website address I said to remember. Just replace whatever word you searched for with %s.


Click Done and you’re done. Now go to the address bar of Chrome and type: define nincompoop, or whatever word you want to look up, and when you press Enter, your result will come not from Google, but from your favorite dictionary.


Power User Tip: you can do the same thing with the keyword “thesaurus” and your favorite thesaurus.

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