An Online Latin Dictionary


Here I am, reading Propertius, when I come to a word I don't know. I press command-backquote, and (no matter what application I am using) the dictionary pops into view; I type the word I don't know (or its first few letters), and instantly the definition appears.


imageThe source of this magic is ObiWan, an amazing little $10-shareware application for Mac OS by Peter N Lewis. (Yes, I know the icon is a picture of R2D2, not ObiWan; write to Peter about that, not me!) Running in a mere 200K as a faceless background application, ObiWan allows you to access dictionary files of any size, with instant lookup and cross-referencing of indexed terms (and very fast search for everything else, too). Its window is a palette that pops up conveniently in front of all windows in any application.

Getting Started

Download the Latin file if you haven't already; decode and unstuff it. Download ObiWan, decode and unstuff it, find the Databases folder, and drop the Latin file into it. Start up ObiWan. Hit commmand-backquote to show the ObiWan window. At first, you'll be seeing the wrong dictionary file; type latin and hit option-return. You're now using the Latin dictionary.

Hit command-backquote again to hide the ObiWan window.

Note: whenever you open the ObiWan window, the area in the upper-left is selected, ready for you to type. So, if the window is already open and you want to type, it might be a good idea to hit command-backquote twice, to close the window and open it ready to type. Or you can click in the upper left area, but on my computer this is less reliable, because sometimes the click "falls through" to the window behind ObiWan.

To look up a Latin word, type the first few letters of the word, and hit return. You will instantly see the definition.

To look at the next or previous word in the dictionary, hit command-period or command-comma respectively.

If the definition contains a cross-reference to another Latin word, you can double-click it to look it up. In other words, you get automatic instant hyper-links.

You can also look for English words used in the definitions. For instance, you might want to know all the Latin words whose English definition includes the word "bold". This feature isn't instant like looking up Latin words (which are indexed), but it's darned fast. So in this example, type bold, and hit shift-return. You will quickly see a word whose definition contains "bold", to see the next such, hit command-period, and so on.

Quitting ObiWan

Since ObiWan is faceless, it has no menu and you can't quit it by ordinary means. That's fine for Peter, since he just runs ObiWan all the time anyway. But, in case you want to treat ObiWan as a more normal application, one that you can start and quit at will, I've included a small AppleScript application, "Quit ObiWan". Just run it and ObiWan will quit (assuming you have AppleScript on your computer, of course).

Other Remarks

For more features of ObiWan, read the ObiWan documentation.

Remember, ObiWan is shareware. Please be honest. The Latin dictionary is free, though. You can modify it for yourself (add words or whatever), but please don't redistribute it if you do so.

Thanks to Florin Neumann for posting to the Internet the text of the dictionary. I don't know where the original text came from, but I'm sure glad it exists. All I did was reformat it for use with ObiWan -- the work of a few moments with Nisus Writer.

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This page prepared October 1, 2011 by Matt Neuburg, phd = matt at tidbits dot com, using RubyFrontier. RubyFrontier is a port, written in the Ruby language, of the Web-site-creation features of UserLand Frontier. Works just like Frontier, but written in Ruby!
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