Unlike most electronic dictionaries, which are organized around
individual entries abstracted from the page
structure of printed versions, The Century Dictionary Online is
based on the actual pages of the original volumes. This has a number
of consequences - all of them good we believe - for word look-up and navigation,
which make the experience of The Century Dictionary Online much
more like the experiences most of us have had using a printed dictionary.
With printed dictionaries, when you want to look up a word, you begin by
opening the book or volume in a section approximate to your word's presumed
position in the alphabet. You then refine the focus of your search, paging
forwards or backwards as needed using the "catchwords" (the first and last
word found on each dictionary page usually printed at the top) until the page
where the word ought to be is found. You can then easily scan
this page looking for a bold-faced word spelled like (or almost like) the word
you want. The parenthetical "almost like" in the previous sentence is actually
important, for you may not be precisely certain how a bold-faced item, or
headword, is spelled. If your word is not where you expect to find it, you
look over the surrounding entries and pages and often find a similar word
that suits your purposes.
The "Find Entry" function of The Century Dictionary Online,
located in the left menu frame and always visible on screen, mimics
this behavior, though it accomplishes all the early steps automatically,
taking you immediately to the appropriate volume and page where an
entry for the word should be found if there is one. Unlike other electronic
dictionaries, which use a "hit or miss" lookup in a wordlist, the Find Entry
function allows you to look around, as you would with a printed dictionary, and
possibly find a word with a slightly different spelling or form.
You may type a word, phrase, or a partial "string," a series of one or more
letters, and go immediately to that range of the alphabet. Find Entry searches
are case-insensitive, which means that you may type either capital or
lower-case letters. "Aardvark" finds the same page as "aardvark" or "aardVArk."
Spaces and hyphens do not matter, so that "base ball," "base-ball," and
"baseball" all find the same page. Typing a single letter, such as "a" or "M,"
takes you to the entry for that letter, typing two letters, such as "Aa" or
"ph," takes to the first page with headwords beginning with those letters, etc.
If you type a number rather than a word, the Find Entry function interprets
the number as a page number and takes you directly to the page in whatever
volume it happens to be. The Find Entry function has another special feature
allowing randomly chosen pages to called up. To generate a random page, simply
click the "book" icon immediately underneath the Find Entry form and above
the "Get the Plug-in" image. This feature is useful for serendipitous
browsing, the electronic equivalent of opening a dictionary volume at random
and reading whatever happens to be there.
For information about full text searches of The Century Dictionary Online
see the Full Text Search Help Page.