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Online Tools for Your Business: Fun with Dictionaries
2002 Donna Schwartz Mills


  My dad and my sister each have home businesses, and the three of us often lament that one of the hardest transitions we had to make was the one from an office full of colleagues to our little solo spots at home. No longer able to bounce ideas off the brains of congenial colleagues, ours is often a lonely existence, with no one to rely upon but ourselves. This is especially difficult when the task we face is a creative one, like writing some marketing copy.

Fortunately, writing is the business task I enjoy the most. As a writer, I have always had a fascination with reference books and have a nice collection of dictionaries, thesauruses, style guides and almanacs.

But thanks to the Internet, I don't use these volumes as much -- it is way quicker to find the information I need online.

A case in point are the many web-based dictionaries available today -- which not only give you the correct spelling and definition of your word, but also offer audio pronounciation, advanced search functions, language translations and more.

One of the most comprehensive is the Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com); America's largest with over 470,000 entries. Merriam-Webster's website offers you free searches of their smaller collegiate dictionary and thesaurus -- but the good stuff is found in the by-subscription-only Unabridged.

Subscriptions cost $29.95 per year or $4.95 per month and give you access to all of M-W's services, including a myriad of word search capabilities:

* The Main Entry search finds the dictionary entries where the headword or related forms match or include the word you enter.

* The Begins With search finds entries for words that begin with the letters you enter.

* The Ends With search finds entries for words that end with the letters you enter.

* The Crossword search works with the wild-card characters ? and *. The ? represents any single letter and the * represents any number of letters. For example, a search for "t?rn" finds the words "torn," "turn" and "tern" while a search for "t*rn" finds these but also "taciturn" and "tavern."

* The Definition search finds the words whose definitions contain the word or phrase you enter in the search box. You can enter one word, such as "glory" or a phrase, such as "small brown bird."

* The Rhyme search finds the words that rhyme with the word you enter.

* The Etymology search finds the words whose word history information contains the word you enter. For example, a search for "Yiddish" finds all of the words that derive from that language.

* The Jumble search finds the words that can be formed from the letters you enter.

Merriam-Webster offers you a 14-day free trial so you can check it out before you pay. If all you need is your basic spelling, definition and pronounciation guide, you may wish to look at Microsoft's Encarta service ( http://dictionary.msn.com/ ). Access to the dictionary is free, plus you can also search their Encarta encyclopedia (I wish I'd had tools like this when I was a student!)

Then again, if money is no object, you can have online access to the ultimate expert on the English language. The 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary ( http://www.oed.com ) can be at your fingertips or "just" *$550* per year. (Back when I was single, I dated a guy who actually owned the print version of this monster. He didn't have a stick of furniture in his apartment, but he shelled out a lot of money for that dictionary.)

Other cool dictionary-related sites we like are:

YourDictionary.com ( http://www.yourdictionary.com ), which offers specialty English language dictionaries in over 80 different fields plus word lookup in over 260 different languages!

Bell-Labs Text-to-Speech Synthesis ( http://www.bell-labs.com/project/tts/voices.html ) This is a demo of Lucent Technologies' TTS project, which converts any machine readable text into speech. Listen to examples of American English or other languages.

Just type in the phrase you would like to hear and your computer will speak it back to you. (You even get a choice of voices, like Man, Woman, Child, Coffee Drinker, etc.)

And if you think that's fun -- you should check out Dictionaroake ( http://www.dictionaraoke.com ), the site that inspired me to do all this research on web-based dictionaries.

The site was created by a group of web-based artists who have recorded their own renditions of popular songs using the disembodied voices of the online pronounciation guides at Merriam-Webster and Encarta (you know -- "dictionary" + "karaoke" = "dictionaraoke" -- get it?) It's silly and fun. You just gotta hear their version of Smashmouth's "AllStar."

(But I warn you -- if you go there you may end up staying too long... I suggest you wait until you finish that writing project!)

All fun things aside, thanks to the power of these online dictionaries, I am now able to quickly and more efficiently find the words I need when writing copy and articles - and wasn't that why we started using computers in the first place?

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Donna Schwartz Mills writes about the specific needs of work at home parents at her website, ParentPreneurClub , "For Parents Who Want Choices, Not Office Politics." Tools, free tips and support to help grow your home based business while raising a family. For more articles like this one, visit Donna's other site, Family-Content.com


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