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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Full dictionary interface on iOS

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

I love words. Love ’em. Adore ’em. Can’t live without ’em. But, such is the nature of words that one’s understanding of them is necessarily finite. There’s a delight in coming across new words and adding them to your lexicon, and I’ve reveled in the addition of features like tappable definitions on iOS and the Kindle, and Spotlight’s dictionary integration on OS X.

Dictionary on iOS

But why can’t you look up definitions in Spotlight on iOS? The absence of this feature is a puzzling and bizarre oversight that’s led me, more than once, to the following laborious workflow: wonder about the definition of a word; open up Mail; create a new blank message; type the word in question; and then select it and tap Define.

There are some ways to speed the process of course: I could use Notes instead of Mail. And I could, of course, search the web—if I have Internet access. What frustrates me is that a dictionary is already present in iOS; there’s just no way to get at it, except for via a somewhat finicky pop-up menu.

On the Mac, Dictionary is a standalone app that I find myself using quite a bit. Yes, you can search the web, but sometimes there’s no substitute for having an actual bonafide dictionary at one’s fingertips.

iOS already gets part of the way. If you select a word and tap Define, up comes a Dictionary panel that’s a sort of mini-interface. You can tap Manage to view a list of installed dictionaries (as well as a list of those you haven’t yet installed, and choose to download them if you want). The Dictionary panel even has a Search Web button built-in! And yet, no ability to search (or browse through) the onboard dictionaries. It’s a shame.

Apple would do well to bring at least the same level of capability that OS X’s built-in Dictionary boasts to iOS. Even if it doesn’t become yet another app on the home screen (where I fear it would be shuffled off with the likes of Stocks), it would be useful if it at least provided definitions in Spotlight, though I would to be sure prefer full-blown searching and browsing abilities through its own interface. In the age of pictures, GIFs, and videos, words might be undervalued—but they still have plenty of utility left.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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