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Playing with dictionary 2.0

In my early library days, I’d get the "Where are the dictionaries?" question a lot.  Dictionaries were less fun in those days.

Dictionaries have become living, growing organisms.  We have a new crop of wonderful tools for better understanding words and building vocabulary. 

Perhaps they are less reliable. Perhaps they are sometimes surprising. Our new dictionaries are nevertheless, far more interesting, interactive, and dynamic than those I used to point to on my shelves.

Some of these tools not only function as dictionaries, they suggest models for learners to engage with words and contribute knowledge to their schools and perhaps, the world. They also provide us ways to discuss an evolving concept of language with learners.

mind maps relationships among words, while it provides traditional dictionary content. It also examines synonyms, antonyms, and fuzzynyms.

Shahi’s beautiful definitions connect to Flickr, Google, and Yahoo! images, as well as Wiktionary content.

Wordia offers video definitions and personal takes on words, a collaborative effort among HarperCollins, England’s National Literacy Trust, and Michael Birch of Note that the wonderful definition of bling above, does include a word we don’t usually use in school.

Leximo, a social dictionary, invites users to submit words in every spoken language of the world. Since each word can be submitted by multiple users, definitions can vary widely in quality and thus other users can rank these definitions, so that the most popular definitions appear first.  Its content seems to be stronger in languages other than English, but it may be a cool way for ELL students to share their own languages.

Wordie is like Flickr, but without the photos. Wordie lets you make lists of words and phrases. Words you love, words you hate, words on a given topic, whatever. Lists are visible to everyone but can be added to by just you, a group of friends, or anyone, as you wish. Users may also comment, discuss, and attach private notes to words.

One of my favorite part of Wordie’s definitions are the links to many other free dictionary (and other reference) options.  Check these out:

(n): a musical instrument in which the sound is produced by one object striking another

Forvo: All the words in the world pronounced and mapped.

Wiktionary, the big daddy of 2.0 dictionaries is a collaborative project a free-content multilingual dictionary. When they say multi, they really mean multi.

The Internet Slang Translator,
also available as an iPhone app, may be useful to share with parents and teachers unused to the language of texting.

The Urban Dictionary, the slang dictionary you wrote, is likely not going to make its way onto your language pathfinders. A substantial amount of its user-submitted may be too gritty for educational environments.  But it will help you understand what some of your kids are really saying. (I’ve promised my own daughter I would not embarrass myself–and her–by even trying to use these words in conversation.) For those of us who are not faint of heart, it will serve as a way to discuss language and its evolution, slang, and perhaps the less-than-pretty ways we talk about each other.

Just in: My Twitter Network suggested I add Visuwords. Wow! I LOVE the color-coded mind mapping.  I can’t wait to share this with our English teachers, in fact all our student writers.  This may be my favorite!

In the spirit of open gates to reference knowledge, I’ll end this post by reposting the TED video in which lexicographer Erin McKean suggests we redefine our notion of dictionary.

Readers, I know I’ve missed some great new dictionaries. Please share your favorites in your comments!

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Thank you so much for continuing to provide information on the cutting edge of Web2.0 Your voice is appreciated.


    Just listened to the TechChicks podcast about some of these. Yeah-makes that old dictionary so cool.

  3. Just learned about Love it!

  4. Helen Bredson says:

    Thank you, it’s a great list of0 tools!
    I think, I’ll use them soon in different cases. By the way, as for languages, I prefer to use
    english thesaurus, because it’s online too.

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