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How can you learn a word without knowing the words within its definition?
6 points by dictionaryfeed 123 days ago | hide | past | web | 16 comments | favorite
When I lookup the definition of a word, there is often a word in the definition that I don't know. This forces me to either navigate away from the definition that I'm currently looking at or open up a new tab in my web browser. This is a very minor problem. But it is well defined and it bothers me. I decided to make my best effort to solve this problem by making my own online dictionary that automatically provides the definitions for words within the definition.

See here:

http://treegle.xyz/define.php?w=querulous

http://treegle.xyz/define.php?w=consummation

http://treegle.xyz/define.php?w=incorporeality

http://treegle.xyz/define.php?w=tetrabranchiata

http://treegle.xyz/define.php?w=endoderm




This is a great idea, and I love how you implemented it so that a definition can be broken down into its component words' definitions (and so on..) - and that I can study the whole tree of meanings in one view. It makes sense visually and mentally.

As a funny aside, the few times that I tried to follow all the way down - like a child asking "why?" repeatedly, asking for the meaning of every word and its definitions - I ended up at the word "being".


Thank you so much for the kind comment! I really appreciate it. Yes, it is fun to just keep clicking and see where it goes.

I actually did some ranking to measure the connectivity of words in the dictionary that I used. I made this little word cloud to show off the most highly connective non-trivial words: https://imgur.com/iqJ1Iwb


Fascinating.. Looking at the visualization of "highly connective words", my mind automatically tried to find some pattern or sense in those particular words - why are they the most connective? Does it mean that there are the most number of definitions that contain (and are related to) these words? I wonder if that signifies something about the "culture" of the English language, what people most often think/talk about when using it (edit: cats apparently! :).

As a side note, something that struck me when I first visited treegle.xyz, was that the definition of "quarrel" included the word "etc." in it:

quarrel - a small opening in window tracery, of which the cusps, etc., make the form nearly square

The use of this "etc." bugs me for some reason: it seems to assume that the reader knows how a window tracery is built, and the word adds no value to the definition - and makes me wonder what components other than "cusps" they meant.

Anyway, wonderful experiment (and project name too).


Thank you again! I really appreciate all of your thoughtful feedback.

Yeah, one way of measuring connectivity is counting how many definitions that a word appears in. Also, yeah, sometimes there are text artifacts in definitions and words, phrases, or abbreviations that don't add any value to the definition.

From research that I've done, this happens in online dictionaries (not often, but occasionally). I've done a lot of work to clean up the definitions in my dictionary and provide the top ranking definitions first, but some artifacts still slip through the cracks.

I really appreciate all of your great feedback and welcome any comments or discussion anytime! :)


What dictionary did you use, what's its license? Last time I checked all the dictionary publishers with APIs had restrictive licenses.


I used Online Plain Text English Dictionary. It's public domain and based on Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913). I had to do quite a bit of cleaning and statistics to improve the definition formatting and ordering.

If you're interested in dictionaries and would like to chat sometime, please send me a message. I would love to. :)


Wordo allows users to click every word in the definition, try it here: https://wordo.co/querulous


Thanks also for pointing out the word querulous! I don't think that the first tree that Treegle generates is so great. You have to click querulous a few times to get better trees. :)


Cool!! Thank you very much for sharing!! I actually never heard of Wordo until now. Do you work with Wordo? If so, wanta collaborate? :)


Yes I helped create Wordo. I am nerdy about words and definitions. I contribute to Wiktionary.

I'd like to collaborate, not sure how but lets get in touch!! Add me on FB or Twitter: https://facebook.com/eftegarie https://twitter.com/aminozuur


Very cool! Should try to pick the relevant definition when there's many though. Even your very first example gives the wrong one for quarrel, you need to click through 7 definitions before you get the right one.


Thank you very much for the feedback!

So I actually talked with a dictionary expert that was a developer for WordNet. He told me that he spent tons of time trying to determine which definition is the right one. He came to the conclusion that dictionary authors quite often disagree on the ordering of definitions and that it is a lost cause to try to rank definitions.

I disagreed with him though. I think that definition form, word usage within the definition, and definition popularity can all contribute to selecting a "right one". That's why I applied statistical techniques to rank the definitions and reorder them to hopefully put the "right one" first.

Sadly, it seems that I didn't do such a great job for you with the word "quarrel".

Feedback noted as this will help when I start collecting data from users and make a push to improve my statistical analysis.

Thank you again and please let me know if you would like to discuss this further with me. Hope all is well. :)


I had the same issue as the other commenter. I also didn't quite understand the "word (1/15)" as it looked like there were around 15 words in the definition to begin with. Maybe you should just show all of them, vertically, until the user selects a new one.


Thank you very much for the follow-up reply in regards to this! The worst definition that I've found is if you search the word "hello".

However, I actually like the first definition of the word "word" quite a bit. This demonstrates that there are differences from person to person.

Bringing this difference to attention, you're right, it would make sense if there was a button to click to just expand all of the definition at once.

Further, when a user selects one of them, I could record that data and incorporate user's preference of definition into my statistical analysis to provide better definitions and better orderings.

I really appreciate your feedback and if you would ever like to discuss further, please let me know! :)


Didn't figure out you can click more then the blue words until I read comments here


Thank you for your feedback! Yes, that is an issue that I've heard many times. I've tried to solve it many different ways.

The issue is that the definition has to be readable while also conveying that the words are clickable without just adding a comment that says all these words are clickable.

I found that making some of the words look like buttons often conveys that those words are clickable and as you accidentally hover over other words, you detect that all of them are clickable.

Any ideas on how to solve this issue are greatly appreciated! If you would ever like to chat about this, please let me know. Hope that you have a great day!




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