Using the Visual Thesaurus

Searching for a Word

To search for a word, type the word in the search box at the top of the window and press the "LOOK IT UP" button. You may also press the enter key instead of pressing the "LOOK IT UP" button.

Try typing the word "pen" into the search box and pressing the "LOOK IT UP" button. After searching for a word, the main display will populate with many words and meanings. The word you searched for will appear in the center of the display, and will be surrounded with words and meanings that are related to it. We will explore what all those relations mean and how they are displayed in greater detail later in the tour. For now, let's learn how to move to a new word, and see the words related to that new word.

Searching for the word pen

Selecting a New Word

To select a new word, click on it with the left mouse button. After you click on the word, the Visual Thesaurus will search for the words and meanings that are related to that word, and put the word you clicked on in the center.

After searching for the word "pen" in the previous example, find the word "write" in the main display and try clicking on it.

Clicking on a new word

Understanding the Display

Let's take a look at the main display of the Visual Thesaurus in more detail. Words are connected to meanings by solid lines. All the words connected to the same meaning are synonyms. Meanings are represented by circles, color-coded to indicate their part of speech.

Meanings are color-coded to indicate their part of speech. There are four parts of speech represented in the Visual Thesaurus, nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

Antonyms, pairs of words that express opposite concepts, are connected by dashed red lines.

Meanings are connected to other meanings by dashed lines.

Listening to a Word

When the word at the center of the display has an audio pronunciation available, a speaker icon appears to the right of it. Click on the speaker icon to hear the word pronounced. If a word has more than one possible pronunciation, it may have more than one speaker icon next to it. Click on each speaker icon to hear the different pronunciations.

Note: Because of the number of words in the dictionary, we could not fit all of their pronunciations on a single CD-ROM. Therefore, listening to the audio pronunciations requires that you be connected to the Internet, so that the Visual Thesaurus can access the audio files from a central server.

Click the speaker to listen to the word

Using the History

It's easy to go back to the word (or meaning) that you were previously on. To return to the last word that was in the center of the display, click the "BACK" button in the toolbar. To go forward again, click the "FORWARD" button.

Using the "BACK" button

If you want to see a list of all the words you have visited, click the "BACK" or "FORWARD" button and hold the mouse button down for a few seconds. The history list will open, and you can see a list of all the words and meanings you have visited since starting the Visual Thesaurus. You can click on any item in the list to return to that place. You can also open the history by clicking on the "HISTORY" bar (below the "BACK" and "FORWARD" buttons) and dragging down with the mouse while holding the mouse button down.

The History List

Word Suggestions Panel

If you make a spelling mistake when searching for a word and the word you typed in was not found in the dictionary, the "Word Suggestions" panel will open automatically. Words that are spelled like or sound like the word you typed in the will be listed. When the Word Suggestions panel opens automatically, you can browse the list using the up and down keys on your keyboard. When you find the word you are looking for, you can press enter to select that word. Of course, you can always use the mouse to select a word from the list as well.

You can also open the Word Suggestions panel whenever you want, even if the word in the search box is spelled correctly. This is an easy way to see other words that are spelled similarly, or that sound like the word in the search box. To open the Word Suggestions panel manually, click on the bar with your mouse and drag down while holding the left mouse button down. The Word Suggestions panel closes automatically when you select a new word.

You can try the Word Suggestions panel now by typing the word "friend" in the search box. Try spelling it wrong on purpose, by reversing the letters "i" and "e," typing "freind" and pressing the enter key. Notice the "Word Suggestions" panel opens automatically and selects the first entry, which is (thankfully), the correct spelling, "friend." Press enter again to select the correct spelling. Notice that the incorrect word is replaced by the correct spelling in the search box.

The Word Suggestions Panel

The Meaning Lists

To the right of the Visual Thesaurus display are the Meaning Lists, which list the meanings currently displayed by the Visual Thesaurus.

The Meaning Lists

Meanings are divided into the four parts of speech: noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. Each part of speech is color-coded to match the circles representing meanings in the Visual Thesaurus display. As you roll over meanings in the Meaning List, the circles representing those meanings in the Visual Thesaurus display area will highlight and their definition will be shown. Similarly, as you roll over circles representing meanings in the display area, the items in the Meaning List will highlight.

You can turn on and off each part of speech within the Meaning List to control which meanings are displayed in the Visual Thesaurus. For instance, if you only want to view verbs, you would turn off all other part of speech sections in the Meaning List.

You can also control the amount of display area dedicated to each part of speech in the Meaning List by clicking and dragging the color-coded header bar for a particular part of speech and expanding or minimizing its display area.

Printing

To print what is currently displayed in the Visual Thesaurus, you can press the "PRINT" button on the toolbar. To see printer and page orientation options before printing, press the "Shift" key when you click the print button. The Visual Thesaurus also features two different printing formats. To learn how to change the printing format, see the section about the Printing settings panel.

The Print Button

Getting Help

To make learning about the Visual Thesaurus easier, it has a "context sensitive" help function. When you turn the help function on, you can roll your mouse over any area of the screen you would like to learn more about, and after a second or two, a "help tip" will appear that explains that function.

To turn the help function on, press the "HELP" button on the toolbar. When the help function is on, the indicator on the right side of the "HELP" button will be next to "ON". To turn the help function off again, press the button again, returning the indicator to the "off" position.

The Help Button

Context Sensitive Menus

If you right-click on a word or meaning in the Visual Thesaurus display (command-click on Macintosh computers), you will see a "pop-up" menu that shows the various actions that can be taken on that word. Not all actions will be available on every word and/or meaning.

Pronounce Word
Hear the word spoken out loud (Requires an Internet connection).
Search Internet
Use your default Web browser to search the Internet for Web sites that are related to this word. (Requires an Internet connection and an Internet browser)
Search for Images
Use your default Web browser to search the Internet for images that are related to this word. (Requires an Internet connection and an Internet browser)
Expand Selection
Temporarily expands the display to include words that are related to this word or meaning. The expanded words disappear when you choose a new word.
Make Center
Make this word or meaning the center of the display. This is equivalent to left-clicking the mouse on the word or meaning.
A Context-Sensitive Menu

The Settings Panel

The Settings Panel is where you can customize many aspects of the Visual Thesaurus to your liking. To open the settings panel, click on the word "SETTINGS" in the toolbar near the top of the window.

Opening the Settings Panel

The Settings Panel : Overview

To the left of the settings panel is a white list of "sub-panels" that you can select by clicking with the mouse. The current "sub-panel" is highlighted in dark gray. Each sub-panel contains a set of controls that allow you to customize the Visual Thesaurus.

To the right of the settings panel is a help text area that explains many of the features and controls contained in the Settings Panel. When you select a sub-panel from the list on the left, the help text changes to explain that particular sub-panel. In addition, if you roll over the individual buttons and controls in the Settings Panel, the help text area will display additional help text for that control.

Closing the Settings Panel

You can close the Settings Panel by clicking one of the buttons at the bottom of the Settings Panel. Depending on how your system administrator installed the Visual Thesaurus, you will see two or three buttons at the bottom of the Settings Panel: "CANCEL", "APPLY", and "SAVE".

Clicking on the "CANCEL" button will close the settings panel and undo any of the changes you have made since the last time you clicked the "APPLY" or "SAVE" button.

Clicking on the "APPLY" button will close the Settings Panel and will apply any changes you have made to the current display.

Clicking the "SAVE" button will close the Settings Panel, apply any changes you have made to the current display, and remember those settings for the next time you use the Visual Thesaurus. If you do not see a "SAVE" button, then your System Administrator has decided to disable the "SAVE" functionality.

Settings Panel Overview

Settings Panel : Presets

The presets sub-panel allows you to choose from a selection of pre-set combinations of settings. This allows you to choose from popular combinations of settings that work well together. When you first start using the Visual Thesaurus, we recommend you choose a preset from the list that best suits your needs. As you become a more advanced user of the Visual Thesaurus, you may want to delve deeper into the other sub-panels and more precisely customize your settings.

Roll your mouse over each of the presets to learn more about it.

The Presets Sub-panel

Settings Panel: Display Settings

This sub-panel is where you can control most of the aspects of how the main display of the Visual Thesaurus looks.

Display:
Allows you to toggle between a 2-D and 3-D display of the Visual Thesaurus.
Scale:
Allows you to increase or decrease the size of the Visual Thesaurus display. This is useful when the display fills with densely related words and meanings. By increasing the scale, you can zoom into the cluster in greater detail.
Font Size:
Allows you to increase or decrease the font size of words in the Visual Thesaurus display.
Circle Size:
Allows you to increase or decrease the size of the circles representing meanings.
Line Color:
Allows you to lighten or darken the color of the lines that connect words and meanings. This can be useful for certain monitors or projectors that require a higher contrast settings.
3D Contrast:
Changes the contrast of the display when it is in 3-D mode. This does not have an effect in 2-D mode. This can be useful for certain monitors or projectors that require a higher contrast settings.
The Display Settings Sub-panel

Settings Panel : Relationships

The Relationships sub-panel allows you to control the types of relationships displayed in the Visual Thesaurus and filter your results by hiding certain relationships.

The Relationship panel lists the 16 categories of relationships between words and meanings that the Visual Thesaurus can display (see the Relationships in the Visual Thesaurus section for a full description of relationship categories). By turning on and off types of relationships, you can screen your results for particular types of linguistic associations. For instance, "a clear colorless tasteless liquid," or what we call "water," has over 26 related meanings. By using the Relationship panel to turn off all types of relationships except the "is made of" association, we reduce the number of related meanings to 10 and see only those things that water is made of (like Hydrogen) and makes up (like a teardrop).

You can roll over each type of relationship in the Relationships panel to learn more about each type of relationship.

The Relationships Sub-panel

Settings Panel : Content Filtering

The Visual Thesaurus allows you to filter the dictionary and remove words and meanings that you may find objectionable. You can choose from the following four content filtering settings:

Level 3:
This is the most restrictive setting. Level 3 includes all of the words and meanings from Level 2 and Level 1, and adds words and concepts that may be considered inappropriate for young children.
Level 2:
Level 2 includes all of the words from Level 1, and adds obscenity, profanity, slurs, blasphemous terms, and slang terms for drugs.
Level 1:
Level 1 filters profanity only.
Unabridged:
Does not filter any content from the dictionary.

Note: Depending on how your System Administrator installed the Visual Thesaurus, you may not be able to see or adjust the Content Filtering setting.

The Content Filtering Sub-panel

Settings Panel : Languages

The languages panel allows you to control which spellings are used in the display. To hide spellings that are particular to American or British english, you can deselect the corresponding check boxes in the "Display" column.

The Languages Sub-panel

Settings Panel : Printing

The printing panel controls the format that will be used when printing from the Visual Thesaurus. You can choose from two different formats:

With Definitions
This multi-page format shows the display along with a list of meanings, their definitions, and usage examples.
Without Definitions
This format prints the display on a single page, without any accompanying definitions.

The Printing Sub-panel

Settings Panel : Shortcuts

The Shortcuts panel show all of the keyboard shortcuts that are available in the Visual Thesaurus. To perform the action listed, press the combination of keys displayed in the left column of the list. Most keyboard shortcuts are disabled when the settings panel is open. Close the settings panel to try the shortcuts.

the Shortcuts sub-panel

Settings Panel : Advanced Settings

The advanced settings panel contains settings that you will not need to change very often.

Audio Preference:
This control allows you to change the audio pronunciations from a British English accent to an American English accent. You can also turn off all audio pronunciations.
Show Narrower Terms:
This control limits when the Visual Thesaurus will show narrower terms for a selected meaning. If you set this too high, or to "Show all", it may make the display cluttered and slow down your computer.
Mouse Click + Shift:
This controls what the Visual Thesaurus does when you left-click with the mouse on a word or meaning when the "Shift" key is pressed down. You can use this as a shortcut, instead of using the context-sensitive pop-up menu that appears when you right-click (Command-click on Macintosh computers) on a word or meaning.
Mouse Click + Ctrl:
This controls what the Visual Thesaurus does when you left-click with the mouse on a word or meaning when the "Ctrl" key is pressed down. You can use this as a shortcut, instead of using the context-sensitive pop-up menu that appears when you right-click (Command-click on Macintosh computers) on a word or meaning.
Mouse Click + Alt:
This controls what the Visual Thesaurus does when you left-click with the mouse on a word or meaning when the "Alt" key is pressed down. You can use this as a shortcut, instead of using the context-sensitive pop-up menu that appears when you right-click (Command-click on Macintosh computers) on a word or meaning.
Auto Pilot Speed:
When the Visual Thesaurus is in "Auto Pilot" mode, it randomly jumps from word to word. This controls the speed at which the Visual Thesaurus chooses new words. To turn Auto Pilot on, press Ctrl+Shift+A on Windows computers or Command+Shift+A on Macintosh computers.
The Advanced Settings Sub-panel

Working with other Applications

You can use the Visual Thesaurus seamlessly with other applications such as word processors and Web browsers.

Copy and Paste:
Copy the word that you'd like to look up in the Visual Thesaurus from another application. Open the Visual Thesaurus. Type Ctrl+V for Windows and Command+v for Macintosh.
Drag and Drop
To drag words into the Visual Thesaurus, select the word in your word processor (or other application) by clicking on it. Then click again, and hold down the mouse button. Drag the word to the Visual Thesaurus and let go of the mouse button. Not all applications support drag and drop.

To drag a word from the Visual Thesaurus into your word processor (or other application), click the word in the Visual Thesaurus, holding the mouse button down. Drag the word into the window of the other application and let go of the mouse button.

Understanding the Visual Thesaurus

The Visual Thesaurus is a visual representation of the English Language. In order to understand the Visual Thesaurus, we need to think about how languages are structured. In particular, we need to think about the relationship between words and meanings in language.

Many words have multiple meanings (sometimes also called senses). The Visual Thesaurus displays meanings as individual circles connected to words.

Circles Represent Meanings

The word pen, for example, has six meanings. Five of the meanings of pen are nouns, and one is a verb. For this reason, the circles in the Visual Thesaurus representing meanings are color coded to indicate their different parts of speech.

Color represents parts of speech

The most common meaning of pen as a noun is "a writing implement with a point from which ink flows."

Pen can also be used as a verb. When used as a verb, it means "produce a literary work".

What is interesting is that the word pen is not in and of itself a noun or a verb. It is the individual meanings of pen that belong to a particular part of speech.

You can roll over meanings in the Visual Thesaurus to see their definitions. Most meanings also have an example sentence that expresses that meaning.

Roll over a meaning to view its definition

All of the meanings which are shown as circles on the screen at any time are also displayed in list form on the right hand side of the screen. The four "meaning lists" on the right show the definitions of all the current meanings, separated by part of speech. When you roll over a definition in the meaning lists on the right, the definition of the corresponding circle appears in the main display. Conversely, when you roll over a circle in the main display, the corresponding definition in the meaning lists is highlighted.

Just as a word can have many meanings, a meaning, or sense, can be expressed using multiple words. For instance, "produce a literary work" can be expressed by not only the word pen, but also write, compose, and indite. The words associated with the same meaning are all synonyms, and therefore belong to the same synset. In the Visual Thesaurus, words that belong to a synset are connected to their shared meaning by solid lines.

Meanings can be expressed by multiple words

The Visual Thesaurus can show more than just synonyms. It also reveals the relationships between meanings. Connections between meanings are displayed as dashed lines. You can roll over these lines to view the nature of relationship between two meanings. For instance, when you roll over the line connecting "a writing implement with a point from which ink flows" to "an implement that is used to write," you learn that a pen is a type of writing implement.

In fact, if you click on the red circle that represents "a writing implement with a point from which ink flows," you can see all the other types of pens. You may notice that when you clicked on the meaning, a small "compass" appeared in the lower right hand corner of the main display. This is the Narrower Terms Compass. The Narrower Terms Compass appears in the lower right corner of the display whenever broader or narrower terms are displayed and always points in the direction of narrower terms.

In this case, it shows that all of the different types of pens, like fountain pen and ballpoint pen which are "narrower", or more specific terms for a pen, appear closer to the top of the display. Broader terms for a pen, such as writing implement appear toward the bottom of the display.

The narrower terms compass points in the direction of narrower terms

"Type of" relationships, like the previous example, are just one of the 16 categories of relationships that the Visual Thesaurus can display. The relationship categories include:

Antonym: A noun, verb, adjective, or adverb that expresses the opposite concept of another word.
Good is an antonym of evil
Pertains to: An adjective that is related or pertains to another word.
Academic pertains to academia
Participle of: An adjective that is derived from a verb participle.
Applied is a participle of apply
Derived from: An adverb that is derived from a verb participle.
Fondly is derived from fond
Entails: A verb X entails Y if X cannot be done unless Y is, or has been, done.
Snore entails sleep
Verb Group: A group of verbs that share related meanings.
"to go together" and "to be compatible, similar to, or consistent" are in related verb groups
Attribute: A noun for which adjectives express values.
The noun weight is an attribute, for which the adjectives light and heavy express values
See-also: A set of meanings that have different senses but express related concepts.
If you are interested in the meaning "precise", see also "accurate"
Is similar to: An adjective that is very close in meaning to another word.
Precise is similar to meticulous
Is a type of: A term that is a type of another term.
A Dalmatian is a type of dog.
Is a part of: A term that is part of another term.
A spoke is a part of a bicycle wheel.
Is made of : A term that is made of another term.
Brick is made of clay.
Is a member of: A term that is a member of another term.
A Democrat is a member of the Democratic Party.
Domain Category: A term that expresses the branch of knowledge that a term belongs to.
The domain category of e-mail is computing.
Domain Region: A term that expresses the region that a term is associated with or originated in.
The domain region of kamikaze is Japan.
Domain Usage: A term that expresses the way that a term is used.
The domain usage of Frisbee is a trademark.