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Use A Definition To Find The Word With OneLook

June 7, 2009

Have you ever been stuck thinking of a word? From somewhere at the back of your brain, it’s now at the tip of your tongue but you can’t ‘spill’ it out. A dictionary, as a word index is obvious. But in few cases, the reverse happens. The meaning is clear but the word escapes the mind. As most writers (and non-writers) will attest, it’s hair pulling time. This is where OneLook’s reverse lookup dictionary rides to the rescue.

OneLook calls itself – the search engine for words. According to the web service, it indexes more than 5 million words in more than 900 online dictionaries along with encyclopedias and other reference sites. Although, OneLook offers the entire range of a dictionary service, it is the Reverse Dictionary we are interested in.

The Look…


Strictly utilitarian. OneLook Beta Version (1.1) looks like it has been put together by a newbie web designer, but as in the case of Google itself – looks are deceptive. The minimalistic interface with just a search box and how-to-do explanations are all about simplicity with speed.

The Concept…

Straightforwardly easy. You don’t remember the word but just what the word stands for. OneLook calls it the ‘concept’. Enter the concept in the search box in a few words, a sentence, a question, or even as a related single word. Hit Find Words to get a list of results with the best matches usually at the forefront of the results.

The site says it works by ‘using a motley assortment of statistical language processing hacks’. (D-uh, I just might reverse look it up.)

The Uses

The site explains it best as shown in the screenshot below.


How to Use it

OneLook’s Reverse Lookup takes me from the ‘word is on the tip of my tongue’ to a revelatory ‘eureka’ moment. But to get the best results in the shortest time…

  • Keep the word or phrase short.
  • The accurate matches will be usually at the beginning of the results list.
  • Click on the word to verify its dictionary definition.
  • The dictionary definitions are arranged according to categories of – General, Art, Business, Computing, Medicine, Miscellaneous, Religion, Science, Slang, Sports, Tech and Phrases. Phrases and slangs sometimes give interesting variations for use in writing.
  • Use wildcard patterns if the meaning or word is fuzzy. And also to filter the mass of results.
  • The asterisk (*) equals any number of characters. For instance, type love* to get all words and phrases like love-bird that begin with ‘love’.
  • The question mark (?) equals exactly one character. For instance, type l?v? to get all words and many acronyms too.
  • The number-sign (#) is a single placeholder for any English consonant.
  • Similarly, the asterisk (@) is a single placeholder for any English vowel.
  • Do a relatedness search by combining two wildcards. For instance, typing t*:salesman will give words and phrases starting with ‘t’ and related to salesman.
  • Some searches will also let you limit the results by Common words and phrases only or Common words only.
  • Get the full complement of acronyms by using the expand shorthand. For instance, expand:USA.results-page

Look into these wildcard tips in the Help section of the website.

Access it as an add-on from the browser search box.

OneLook can be added to the Firefox and IE search toolbar as an add-on. In other browsers it can be added to the Links folder. Thus, giving easy access.

Customize your experience


The Customize page of the site lets you tweak the way you view the results, background colors and banner display settings.

As the web service crosses over from the beta stage, we can expect even more value additions. Even now, as a reverse lookup dictionary its byword is results at a click of Find Words.  I guess, I will now be able to crack the Times Crossword in ‘a blink of an eye’. In a heartbeat, as OneLook Reverse Lookup says.

Try it and let us know with your worded comments.

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