So I was poking around the Internet (as I am wont to do when I'm procrastinating) and I found the Free Dictionary's Free Website Content page and there is all sorts of awesome English related stuff there to embed in web pages, including a dictionary look-up, "idiom of the day", and word games.

I use The Free Dictionary as a reference for ELL often, because it consolidates definitions from other dictionaries and I think stating something several different ways is helpful when trying to explain something. I would love to see the Dictionary Look Up Box available in the sidebar (or maybe just on the "Ask Question" page). If you click on the "Customize" button and select "Simple", it can be quite compact.

I have a feeling that including off-site dynamic content like that isn't feasible, but you can't be sure unless you ask, right?

As for whether the Free Dictionary is on the up and up, their terms of service has some information:

Third-Party Information: Some articles, including the content from Wikipedia®, are distributed under the terms of GNU Free Documentation License. We always strive to make TheFreeDictionary.com the best dictionary resource on the World Wide Web. We sometimes provide users with access to multiple sources of data when accessing our services and provide attribution to such sources in accordance with the relevant law and arrangements with third parties. Some information on our site is provided by third parties and edited by our staff. Check the copyright notice immediately following such articles for more information.

Considering that each entry has a citation already written out in APA, Chicago, and MLA style, and they've been around for 13 years without anyone suing them, I don't think Farlex is any shadier than your typical ad-supported website.

  • I'm not sure how many will or won't use it, but it'd certainly give the site a more ELL feel. Where do I sign?
    – M.A.R.
    Aug 4, 2016 at 20:12
  • @TIPS Just to be clear, I'm not proposing it as a solution to any particular issue. I just think it would be nice to have. Maybe if it is more convenient to look up a word, more folks will, but I'm not going to hold my breath ;)
    – ColleenV
    Aug 4, 2016 at 20:15
  • Currently, what ELL needs is some meta accommodation wherein people sit down and think about how to moderate the site better. These feature requests are usually implemented if there's strong community support, and aren't always meant to address problems.
    – M.A.R.
    Aug 4, 2016 at 20:22
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    The site should not endorse a particular dictionary, even if it is one that consolidates several. How difficult is it to open another tab in the browser? The less clutter, the better, IMO.
    – TimR
    Aug 5, 2016 at 11:06
  • @TRomano Well, one of our community promotion ads is for Wiktionary, but I get your point.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 5, 2016 at 11:49
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    @TRomano: I have no problem with "endorsing" thefreedictionary, given most if not all the content comes from other dictionaries that are invariably credited. To me it's no different to endorsing Wikipedia, or the results of a Google search. I think the full Oxford English Dictionary is a unique resource (no other language has anything that comes close), so I'd happily endorse that too - but it would be a bit pointless because it's behind a paywall (except for one randomly-selected day every month, I think). If TPTB would endorse this idea, I'm all for it. Aug 7, 2016 at 14:07
  • Isn't the Free Dictionary violating the legal Terms of Use of those dictionaries? Or do they have a special syndication side-agreement that permits them to take content from those sites?
    – TimR
    Aug 7, 2016 at 14:35
  • @TRomano There is a $10,000 minimum for advertisers on The Free Dictionary and they claim 60+ million unique visitors monthly. If they were flagrantly violating the TOU for the major dictionaries, I'm guessing it would be worth someone's while to do something about it. You never can tell with legal stuff, but they seem to have their ducks in a row.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 7, 2016 at 21:24
  • 1
    @ColleenV: Apparently, Dictionary.com were among those suckered into repeating NOAD's made-up word esquivalence It's not there now, and I don't know if thefreedictionary also got caught out by that one. But my respect for dictionary-makers has been severely dented by finding out about Dord. With "authorities" like that, we may as well make things up as we go along (in practice that's what most of us do anyway, especially for very modern usages). Aug 10, 2016 at 21:21
  • @FumbleFingers Well if a consolidator like TFD did incorporate such a word, it probably would have only been from one source - I can't get to that link for some reason but I think it's a copyright trap like Agloe, New York
    – ColleenV
    Aug 10, 2016 at 21:32
  • 1
    @ColleenV: As I write, your question has 11 upvotes and no downvotes, and I assume like me they all support your proposal that we would like to incorporate that lookup box on the sidebar. I don't know how to square that with the fact that the only other votes here are in support of TRomano's comment that ELL should not endorse any particular dictionary. I think that's a misguided extrapolation from the original programmers' Q&A site (IT changes much too fast for such an approach), and since the full OED isn't likely to be free anytime soon I'm all for thefreedictionary. It's pretty good. Aug 10, 2016 at 21:53
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers well maybe those folks just don't feel strongly enough about it to DV. I voice my opinion in comments and don't actually vote on way or the other sometimes. I do appreciate being introduced to esquivalience though. If they hadn't done such a good job of making it an annoying word, I'd start a personal campaign to turn it into a real word ;)
    – ColleenV
    Aug 10, 2016 at 22:01
  • 1
    This is an excellent idea! And it wouldn't just be handy for ELL; it would be great on ELU too.
    – Dog Lover
    Aug 11, 2016 at 0:25
  • @ColleenV I'm all for this and I did +1. Ref. your feelings about esquivalience, I note that in the case of dord, Gove lamented upon its expungement: "...probably too bad, for why shouldn't dord mean 'density'?" Aug 11, 2016 at 2:23

1 Answer 1


As much as I like the idea, I really don't think such a feature fits on SE as a network, and frankly, it isn't maintainable.

There's a very fluid format across the various sites, and one a site requests linking with 3rd party tools (and if they were to get it!), the dynamic between sites breaks (subtly, but still). If a request like this were to be approved for ELL.SE, other sites would invariably request integrations as well. Site content moves just a tiny bit away from the core Q/A, and then every site starts to look like they don't belong to the whole - StackExchange. Perhaps it's a shallow opinion, but I use a lot of different SE sites daily, and it would throw me off a bit to have many sites using vastly different external content.

Much more importantly, it isn't a maintainable nor reliable feature. In software development, one core practice is to reduce dependencies as much as possible. When your code relies on third-party things to work, you put yourself at risk of that dependency no longer being worked on, suddenly being removed from existence (this actually happens), or not integrating well with some other aspect of your application.

If SE starts adding these types of integrations, it's now a whole team's job to make sure that those integrations:

  • continue to function (don't randomly break)
  • remain usable (function as the user expects)
  • fit in with the UX design for each site (look like they fit)
  • aren't causing security issues (a whole variety of potential problems)
  • etc.

All said and done, I'm against the idea of integrating with an external tool. It sounds good now, but in reality it's a development and maintenance time-bomb.

Alternative solution: put a link to that site in the help docs, tour page, or somewhere else where the community thinks it could fit :)

  • I leave the questions of maintainability and such to the folks that are familiar with the code base and the processes in place to maintain it. I expect my clients to use our "front door" process and allow me to figure out if what they want is possible, but I hope they would give me a chance to evaluate any idea they had. Often those ideas are inspirations for improvements, even if they can't be implemented exactly as suggested.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 14, 2016 at 21:13
  • @ColleenV Of course, I agree completely. There's no harm in asking! I just highly doubt that they would ever want to implement something like this. At first glance all they would have to do is copy/paste, more or less, that embed code into their code base. But there's a lot of potential problems down the road if that website decides to change something on their end - whatever they change is immediately visible on StackExchange; in fact, if they became a malicious group, or were hacked, SE would be affected as a third party. Aug 14, 2016 at 21:18
  • If I had a dollar for every time someone unfamiliar with the code base I was working with was laughably wrong when they said "Oh that's impossible" or "Oh that's really easy", I would be rich enough to buy a national newspaper and let the reporters write the stories they want to write without worrying about ad revenue. That's a LOT of money ;) Your alternative misses the entire point. We don't need more links buried in the help center.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 15, 2016 at 1:14

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