Mac OS X only knows English
October 2, 2006 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Mac OS X 10.4 has a wonderful little feature associated with : if press crtl + apple + D, it gives you the definition of the word under the cursor. Clearly this is only of limited use to a native english speaker, but I can imagine it being very helpful to non-native speakers, and I've very much love to have dictionaries in other languages (firsly French). However, it appears Apple never bothered to make any. Any idea what the file format is? Or how to make your own dictionary?

fyi, French Macs either come either with the English dictionary, or no dictionary at all. And Apple's tech support is typically unhelpful. You can find the files in /Library/Dictionaries
posted by jeffburdges to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Google Toolbar for Firefox will give you the translation of any word you hover your mouse over into a range of languages you can choose from under 'options,' and I'd thought to use it to try to pump up my vocabulary in French, but, incredibly, the feature does not specify gender for any word, and I know from sad experience that if I get that wrong in the first place, I will always struggle to get it right.
posted by jamjam at 3:09 PM on October 2, 2006

The .dict files in /Library/Dictionaries are actually packages. Right-click and select Show Package Contents to see inside. Inside the New Oxford American Dictionary, there is an XML document dict_body which uses the namespace

That URL isn't valid any more (if it ever was), but it seems to refer to an SGML format designed by the OUP for the OED as mentioned in this article. For example, it uses <hw> to mark headwords of entries, and <xr> to mark cross-references.

So it looks like a standard-ish XML format, or at least one that is pretty decipherable.
posted by chrismear at 3:26 PM on October 2, 2006

The URL has moved to this address. It's not going to be very helpful unless you have a big heaping helping of XML knowledge. If you know XML and Perl, it would be easy for you to convert extant dictionaries to that flavor of XML.

I no longer work for OUP (where I had only a small role in creation of the dictionary and thesaurus data that are used in OS X's, so I could not say whether or not they are striking deals to include more languages. As far as I know, OUP and Apple were not discussing it as of three weeks ago.

In the meantime, I recommend the UltraLingua dictionaries. They are fairly inexpensive, they also offer keyboard-activated defining of words that are hovered over, and the new 6.01 version seems superior to the older version. I currently have nine of their dictionaries installed and the app is usually open since I use it all the time.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2006

Note that the article that chrismear links to describes the Oxford English Dictionary which uses a very different DTD from that of other Oxford dictionaries, including that of the New Oxford American Dictionary, from which the OS X Dictionary data is derived. Also, it looks like tags were abbreviated for the Apple version, perhaps to reduce file size.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:19 PM on October 2, 2006

UltraLingua seemed nice at first, but now it just seems over priced: $30 per dictionary means $60 for French. And you'll remain subject to the annoyance-ware part if you ever descide to grab another module. And it's crashed on me a couple times.

While I'm sure $30 is worth the time savings of not having to work out Apple's dictinary format format myself. Apple's annoyance-ware culture is lame & ought not to be supported.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:15 AM on October 5, 2006

Apple's annoyance-ware culture is lame & ought not to be supported.

Um, what? You do know that Apple has nothing to do with that product, don't you?
posted by chrismear at 6:55 AM on October 5, 2006

okay mr. pedantic : The Mac's annoyance-ware *culture* is lame & ought not to be supported. :)

I've found several offline free solutions; however, none provide the pretty mini-popup of Apple's dictionary service. fyi, Ultraligua's mini-popup isn't nearly as nice as Apple's.

MDict provides an offline en-fr-ru dictionary, and correctly registers as a service, but it uses shift+apple+letter for service activation, so its effectively inaccessible execpt via the services menu.

I found the best solution at :
1) DICTatoro provides a local dictd server for Mac OS X
2)'s sourceforge site provides the French-English dictionaries, or you can pull them from Debian's dictd distribution
3) OmniDictionary provides the Mac OS X service

Sadly, OmniDictionary is the only dict client which correctly registers as a service, again using keys which make it inaccessible execpt via the services menu. MacDICT is the other dictd client, according to the Mac DICT HowTo, but it doesn't even register as a service.

Still, the local dictd server greatly simplifies the problem by providing all the content. All one needs now is a suitable dictd interface.

If I had infinite time, I would
- write nice looking dictd client mini-popup service & dashboard widget
- port Debian's dictd distribution to Fink
But I'll be happy with OmniDictionary & DICTatoro for now. And pick up a book on Xcode next time I'm in the U.S.

p.s. I'm sure Ultralingua has more French-English translations, but I'm also pretty sure they are way overselling their product, and much more information is available via dict databases.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:29 AM on October 5, 2006

fyi, Safari send's dict:// urls to Apple's Oxford english dictionary, but dict:// is meant to use the dict (RFC 2229) protocol too.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:59 AM on October 5, 2006

growldict offers RFC 2229 lookup as desired.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on October 20, 2006

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