Custom Dictionary

Is it possible to create a custom dictionary that you can use to check written material with? I mean so that you can scan only using the custom dictionary. I am writing essay samples and would like to use, whenever possible, only the vocabulary the students already know. Could I then create a custom dictionary that contains only the words the students know ( I have a list) and then use it to scan written material? Bascially what I hope is that words that are not in the custom dictionary will show up highlighted.

I’ve been trying to write a PHP program that will do just that. It should be relatively simple, but so far I haven’t had much luck getting it to work. :blush:

I wish I spoke PHP too. But you can try download Babylon and create your own glossary.


If you have Linux or another UNIX variant, you can use the “spell” program (and its maintenance programs) to do what you want.

You’ll need to delete the system wordlist and then build your own with the maintenance programs. It is fairly simple to do.

Linux is free from many vendors, but I don’t know which distributions include “spell” by default. Unless you already know how to use these programs, be sure to install the full set of manual pages when you install the system, so that you can read them to figure out the commands.

My favorite free Linux distribution is from

Thanks for the suggestions. Without great effort it does not seem possible. Stupid really, what with WORD being the irrevelant option program par excellence. You’d think the ability to turn off the main dictionary would be a no brainer.

I’m not sure if I’ve understood what you want to do. However, you could use some limguistics software like Wordsmith to create a corpus of all the words in your files. This will be saved as a text file which could be your custom dictionary to use in Word.

The problem is you have to use the custom dictionary in conjunction with the regular dictionary. I want to be able to use just a custom dictionary so I can use it to check essays I write. I want to use only words in the custom dictionary. As there are a thousand or two it would be much easier to scan an essay with a custom dictionary than check the essay against a typed list which is what I have to do now.

Humpfh. “great effort”. Linux is EASY. But, fine, you’re stuck in Windows Hell. Remember, you can always escape and be free!

I assume that MS-Word’s dictionary file is somewhere where you can see it, right? (Or files, depending on how MS set it up.) Back them up on a floppy (or another part of your HD) so that you can put them back if you discover you need them later. Delete them from where MS-Word knows about them. Then run the spell-checker and see if it blows up. If it does, try creating zero-length files in their places and run spell-check again.

Once you get it “working” (you misspelled every word! :slight_smile: ) create your custom dictionary and you should be golden.

Disclaimer: haven’t tried it, don’t know if it’ll work. But it’s worth a shot, anyway.

You could do this using Perl and an appropriate database (mysql or postgresql). Use the DBD module to connect to the database and use perl to search your files. If the files are Word files, you may want to drive Visual Basic with perl. Better yet, ask your students to give you text files. Check for some introductory articles

So, yes, what you want to do is possible, but you may need to invest some time to learn the tools.

Thanks guys but I think I’ll stick to the typed word list unless I can get the computer people at work to do this for me. Sure, anything is possible, but not given the sad fact of human mortality, not all things are desirable. Linux may be a superior os, Perl a wonderful language but like just like Latin and Greek, kung fu and calligraphy, they will likely remain forever on my list of things to master and learn. Life’s dinner is short, and my plate is already full.

Mucha and I have been discussing this privately. I wrote up a Perl script and webpage for him to check essays, etc., against a word list to make sure that all words are on the list.

If anyone would like to try it and make suggestions on improving it, please feel free. It is at:

The first line, “Student”, can be used for whatever you want as an identifier. If you’re checking students’ essays, you might put in something like “Susie Li, Thursday class 2, Essay 01”. Whatever you put in here will appear as the title and as a header line on the results page (in case you want to, say, print these pages off to give back to students).

For the second line, put in the name of the dictionary you want to use. Currently there is only one dictionary, dict1.txt – I didn’t bother to make this a default; you’ll actually have to type it in. If anyone has specific dictionaries required by your schools, I can set them up for you.

The third entry field is for the essay, lesson, or whatever you want to check against the wordlist. Copy and paste the text into the field, then hit the “Push to Test” button and see which words weren’t found.

The script recognizes only A-Z, a-z, and apostrophe. All other characters (i.e., punctuation) are discarded and used to break the input into words. The script doesn’t make any attempt to check grammar, correct usage, or do anything else – just looks to see whether a given word is in the dictionary file it was told to use. (It does try to remove a trailing “'s” or “s’” in an attempt to deal with possessives (e.g., “the airplane’s wing”).)

Partial credit should be given to Matt Wright of and, whose “formmail” script I cannibalized to handle the I/O when I turned the small standalone Perl script into a web form.