Lookup Words from the Command Line Using a Simple Bash Script

Dmitri Popov

Productivity Sauce

Aug 03, 2010 GMT
Dmitri Popov

The humble nano text editor can be a rather handy distraction-free drafting tool, but now and then I need to look up words and their definitions in WordNet. To do that, I tweaked a simple Bash script I stumbled upon on the Stack Overflow Web site. The original script pulls data from the Google Define source, but it took just a few minutes to make it work with WordNet. So if you, like me, need to look up words and their definitions without leaving the terminal, here is a script that can help you with this:

echo "Enter your word:"
read word

/usr/bin/curl -s -A 'Mozilla/4.0' 'http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s='$word \ 
| html2text -ascii -nobs -style compact -width 500 | grep "*"

For this script to work, you need to install curl and html2text packages. On Ubuntu, you can do this using the sudo apt-get install curl html2text command. Copy and paste the script text into a blank text file, save it as the wn.sh script, and make it executable using the chmod +x wn.sh command. Now you can run the script by issuing the ./wn.sh command.

Obviously, you can use this script with any other online resource. All you have to do is to replace the existing query URL with your own and tweak the parameters of the html2text command.


  • 500 words

    Great Blog here my friend! Very informative, I appreciate all the information that you just shared with me very much and I'll be back to read more in the future.
  • My version for looking up words

    If you use Debian, with an installation 'apt-get install wordnet' then the whole dictionary is in your computer. The following script is ideal for reader, since it just looks up definitions and no more. As a result, it save some more space on the screen and is easier to look.

    #! /bin/bash
    wn $1 -over | less

    And as an option, like Joe Klemmer suggested, you can customize the code so that it would prompt to enter a word if you forget to do so.That's it. Very simple.
  • Re: Lookup Words from the Command Line Using a Simple Bash Script

    I did a little tweaking of this script, if that's ok. This will let you enter the word to look up on the commandline or, of no word is passed, prompt the user for it.


    echo ""

    if [ "x$1" == "x" ] ;
    echo -n "Enter your word: ";
    read word;

    /usr/bin/curl -s -A 'Mozilla/4.0' 'http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s='$word | html2text -ascii -nobs -style compact -width 500 | grep "*"

    Side note:
    It might be easier to use the dict utility in some cases. If it isn't installed on your system just run -

    # yum install dictd

    The output is formatted much cleaner and it returns more information.
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