Children's, Intermediate and Advanced Online English Dictionary & Thesaurus

Category: Children’s Dictionary


In Latin, focus means “hearth” or “fireplace.” It entered English in the 1600s as a word for the point where rays of light meet. The meaning “center of activity or energy” came into use in the 1700s. Because the hearth was for centuries the center of home life, it is not surprising that, today, several of the meanings of focus have something to do with a center or meeting point.

If you enjoyed this word history, try looking up these words in the Word Explorer Dictionary for Children: weird, compassion, barbecue, curfew, and gossip. Some of these histories will surprise you!



The Interactive World Map for Children in WILD

The Wordsmyth Illustrated Learner’s Dictionary (WILD) includes all the world’s countries as headword entries. In addition to the definition and pronunciation, each country’s entry contains a map illustration showing the country and the region surrounding it.  In addition, the interactive World Map for children, found in the WILD Collections, gives children an opportunity to view the parts of the world from the top level (the World), to the continent or region level, to the individual country level, and back up again.  (For Canada and the United States, one can navigate further down to the province or state level.)

Mousing over a continent or region, such as Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, or Middle East, will highlight that region and bring up an audio icon for the region’s pronunciation and an icon that links to its dictionary entry.

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If a child clicks on the icon to go to the dictionary entry for a particular region, he or she will find descriptive information in simple and engaging language.  To return to the map once in the dictionary requires only a simple click.

Once on a region map, clicking on it will bring up the labels of all the countries in that region.  The child may then click on individual countries to read about them in the dictionary or hear the pronunciation of their names.  All currently recognized nations are included in the WILD dictionary, and each has a definition describing the country’s location in the world and providing information that will give a child some impression of what the country is like.  Definitions are not encyclopedic in length or scope, but they include such information as what animals may live in the country, how people make their living there, or what type of climate or terrain characterizes the nation.  Any type of interesting fact about a nation may be included so that children will be encouraged to see every country of the world as unique and significant.


Defining Words in WILD: Descriptive Definitions

Definitions for the Wordsmyth Illustrated Learner’s Dictionary (WILD) are written in what is called a “descriptive,”  or “explanatory,” style.  This type of defining uses full sentences as opposed to the sentence fragments traditionally used in dictionaries and is a style that is well-suited to the needs of young readers and language learners.

Because many of the words in WILD are nouns, a large proportion of the definitions are simply of the form “An A is a B” — “A garden is a place where people grow flowers, fruits, or vegetables,” for example.  However, many of the definitions in WILD are written in a format that is unique to descriptive defining; that is, they define by using the headword in an initial clause beginning with “If” or “When”  (e.g., “When you gather things…) and describing in the clause that follows the communicative impact of using that word (“….you bring them together into one place.”)

Defining “cozy” and “growl”

To define the word “cozy,” for example, we begin with the clause “When you feel cozy” and finish with the defining information: “you feel warm and comfortable and safe.”  Similarly, to define the verb “growl,” we begin with the clause “When an animal growls” and end with the defining information: “it makes a sound that comes from deep in its throat.”

Headword: cozy
Definition:  When you feel cozy, you feel warm and comfortable and safe.  When something is cozy, it makes you feel this way.  Something that is cozy is often small, like a small room or bed, but it gives you a nice feeling.

book entry in WILD: cozy

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Headword:  growl
Definition:  When an animal growls, it makes a sound that comes from deep in its throat.  An animal usually growls when it’s angry or when it wants to scare another animal away.

Less is not always more in dictionary writing for kids

In defining words for young children in WILD, we have taken an attitude that does not generally characterize dictionary writing.  While lexicographers typically aim for conciseness in defining, we don’t operate under the assumption in WILD that less is always more.  In fact, we’ve taken the attitude that more is more, as long as what is contained in the definition field is simple and useful.  We believe that even full-sentence, descriptive definitions can still be remarkably opaque and incomplete in describing meaning, and we want our users to understand the meaning of the headword described and even enjoy the experience of grasping it through reading.  To this end, we very often go beyond the core defining sentence and add more information that we hope will make the meaning clear and make the experience of reading the definition both enlightening and entertaining.


Introducing beta WILD, Wordsmyth’s Dictionary for New Readers!

Wordsmyth is for kids

The Wordsmyth Illustrated Learner’s Dictionary (WILD) is Wordsmyth’s newest and most exciting and interactive dictionary.  WILD is geared toward children in Grades K to 3 as well as to young English Language Learners.The beta version of WILD is now available for exploration at

At the core of WILD is an abundantly illustrated dictionary that contains child-friendly, full-sentence definitions and example sentences for nearly 3,500 words.  The dictionary can, of course, be used by looking up a word in the search box, but a child may also access and explore the dictionary entries through the three distinct visual environments Wordsmyth has created: the World, the Collections, and the Book. All the environments are linked with each other so that a user may at any time navigate from one to another.

WILD’s three visual environments

In the WILD World, children can explore items as they appear in natural and human-made environments.  A child may choose to explore in Nature, seeing what plants and animals exist in a variety of surroundings, such as the seashore, the desert, or the forest; or he or she may explore in the City, looking at what objects and types of people can be found in different settings such as the school, the post office, or the grocery store.  In any setting, there are opportunities to explore on different levels.  Once in the seashore setting, for example, a child can navigate into the tide pool or into the ocean and see what creatures might exist there. 

Once in the restaurant, a child can zoom in to look at the menu, or navigate into the kitchen and open the refrigerator!  At any point, a user can see the objects in a setting with or without word labels and with or without Spanish or Chinese translation.  (Other language translations will follow in all three visual environments.)  All word labels can be clicked on to access audio pronunciations as well as to link with a word’s dictionary entry.  Once in the entry, one can easily navigate back to the same item in the World.

The WILD Collections allow children to explore words in categories, viewing artist renderings of hundreds of carefully selected and arranged items.

The Collections include a wide range of categories and subcategories, such as plants, parts of plants, things people do, things to read, things in fairy tales, animals, mammals, invertebrates, parts of the human body, actions of the body, foods, spices, materials for art, colors, and shapes.  Included in the Collections is also a collection called Maps, which is where a child will gain access to an interactive map of the world.  (WILD includes a full entry for every currently recognized nation.)  Here too, a child can navigate to deeper and deeper levels and at the same time link at any point to audio pronunciations and dictionary entries.

In the WILD Book, concise versions of the dictionary entries are displayed almost as if on pages of a print dictionary, and clicking on any word will open up its full, expanded entry, which will then allow the user access to any additional meanings of the word, entertaining example sentences coupled with each definition, Spanish and Chinese translations of the word, and, quite often, additional illustrations and photos. Text and audio pronunciation, as well as part of speech information, can also be accessed in every full entry.The Book environment has been designed not only to look like a print dictionary, but to resemble a print dictionary in the way the pages can be turned, allowing a user to browse page by page, looking at illustrations and photographs, and reading definitions of words that catch his or her interest.  In addition, the Book allows users the choice of viewing all the words of the dictionary or limiting the display to those words with images, words with a particular part of speech, or words that can be found in the World or Collections.

This post merely scratches the surface of what WILD has to offer, but we hope it conveys some of the excitement we feel at launching this new and vibrantly engaging educational resource.  Future posts will further detail WILD’s unique features and ways that it can be used and enjoyed by children, parents, and teachers. Visit the Wordsmyth blog later this week if you need some help using the activities in WILD.