It's back-to-school season, and a return to my favorite homework mantra: Look it up! Online dictionaries are fast and easy to use while surfing the Web, because you can cut-and-paste the words you want to look up. Although I still prefer the printed kind for off-line look ups, these sites are also handy when my hardback dictionary is buried under so many papers I can't find it! [Editor's Note: An updated version of this column is available at Online Dictionaries.]
All Words is an English dictionary with multilingual search which means you can search and display words in either English, German, Dutch, French, Italian or Spanish. For example enter "play" and select search language English and display language Spanish/English. You will be rewarded with six English definitions and the corresponding Spanish equivalents including: to spend time in recreation (jugar), to perform a role in a play (actuar), and a dramatic piece for the stage (obra de teatro).
Dictionary.com includes biblical names, chemical elements, computer terms, international statistics, and zip codes as well as the correct spelling and definition of English words all in one search function. But wait, there's more! Daily crossword puzzles and word searches, Word of the Day, Ask Doctor Dictionary, and a link to sister site Thesaurus.com combine to make Dictionary.com a site worth bookmarking.
From "aardvark" to "zoologist," little Net surfers can click their way through the alphabet. Each letter of Little Explorers' dictionary has dozens of illustrated entries, most of them linked to external sites. For the letter A", explore Africa, acid rain, astronomy and more. As you roam onto the Net, the Little Explorers' alphabet frame remains at the top of your screen, so you can return at any time. The dictionary is also available in English/Spanish, English/French, English/German and Portugese.
I don't know why my mouth trips over the word "quintessential." It's one of my favorite words lately. I'm hoping that I've re-programmed my brain by listening to it repeatedly at this Merriam-Webster dictionary site. In addition to the audio pronunciation clips, visit to grab a free dictionary look-up toolbar for your Internet Explorer browser, to play a fun round of Dictionary Devil, and to listen to the Word for the Wise audio broadcast.
Word Central, the student dictionary site from Merriam-Webster, is my pick of the day. In addition to a fast dictionary function, you can play games (on the second floor), and build your dictionary that includes your own made-up words (every family has a few, don't they?) Other fun clicks are the rhyming Mad Libs game found in the Music Room's Verse Composer, and the Daily Buzzword, available both online and via email.