Contrary to the popular notion, your vocabulary isn’t a function of your cognition or memory; it’s a function of your biceps: how many words you know is directly proportional to how heavy the dictionary is. And the dictionary, legend has it, has a way of doubling in weight a month before your GRE is due. Cry foul and surrender? Well, maybe not; you can use that ol’ brick of paper as a doorstopper while you hop online and go through your reading list accompanied by ProfessorWord. The free bookmarklet highlights all exam-worthy words and proffers helpful meanings while you surf the web. Who knew building your vocabulary could be this easy.
ProfessorWord is a real timesaver, least of all because it takes no more than a second to install the bookmarklet. Simply drag the ‘Run ProfessorWord’ button onto your bookmarks toolbar, and that’s it!
When I click ‘Run ProfessorWord’, all the SAT/ACT/GRE-grade words on the page are instantly highlighted. To see their meaning, I need only click them. I can, in fact, view the meaning of any word on a page (including the ones that aren’t highlighted) by simply clicking it. A bubble pops up, containing the word and its definition. You can change the bubble’s size with the ‘+/-‘ buttons, or move it around the selected word by dragging, or pressing ‘Ctrl+M’. Furthermore, if you decide to print a page after running ProfessorWord on it, the definitions of all the words you clicked and viewed will print as footnotes.
You’ll also see another green panel in the top-left that basically shows you the number of results found, serves as your dictionary for looking up a word that’s not on the current webpage, and lets you access a user guide as well as the bookmarklet’s settings through ‘Preferences’. If you don’t want the panel to be in your way, you can minimize it to a small icon by clicking the close button.
Let me point out a few keyboard tricks for the program. To close a word-definition popup, use ‘Ctrl+I’; to open it again, hit ‘Ctrl+K’. ‘Ctrl+L’ toggles you through all the SAT/ACT/GRE words ahead, highlighting each one magenta on the way, while ‘Ctrl+J’ does the same in reverse.
You can’t save words to ProfessorWord yet, but free accounts for the service are in the works, that will bring that option to users. What’s more, you’ll also be able to create a teacher account, where you can oversee a group of student accounts, assign readings and track progress. There’s even talk about a premium account once beta testing is over.
So there you have it, folks – a dictionary at your fingertips. While my favorite online solution is still Ben Zimmer’s fantastic Vocabulary.com, the WordNet-powered ProfessorWord comes second only by a hairsbreadth. With its reflexive design and proactive style, the app demonstrates that a dictionary, in its proper sense, is a digital tool, not an analog one. Reassuring news to weary arms, this is.