Look up words on Mac

In MacOS, it is very convenient to look up a word that you meet almost anywhere. As introduced at the following page:

It is very useful for people who don’t use English as native language and had excerpted contents in his notes.

Thanks for the reminder from @den
This function is naturally supported when the touch pad is used.

However, if the touch pad is not accessible, for example, when people use external monitor, keyboard and mouse, hope the Obsidian for Mac can support invoking this useful function by provide an option in the context menu.


It is working, what is the problem? Just press 3 fingers on words if you have macbook. If it is not working set it in touchpad settings. Done

Beside using the 3-fingers-touch to invoke this lookup word function , due to some reasons, Apple also put it into the context menu. I think this requirement is valid, since people don’t have access to the touch pad all the time.

may be I should clarify my question as: invoke lookup word function via the context menu.

@den: nope, does not work on my macbook air, neither with force click, nor with 3 fingers on trackpad, nor with context.

So, AFAIC, it’s a valid, useful feature request.

the lookup word function and the 3-finger-touch action is touchpad configured in the macOS Preference.

Oct-14-2020 23-02-24

@GLight: yes I know, and when I am using my browser it works well. It does not work in Obsidian.

Did you tried to select the word first and then use the 3-finger-touch? which may open the dictionary app, rather than open a pop-up floating window.

@GLight: yep, you’re right, the 3-finger-touch works if the word is selected first.
Many thanks. :+1:

System: Mac OS 10.15
3-finger press on word, without selecting the word.

Why you don’t write your system version? Later please include all your setup when opening ticket. I got scolded several times, so now is my turn :smiley:

If you want to use it this is not really an Obsidian thing to do this…

Just install app PopClip and you can get bunch of features (including word lookup), this is most effective solution. And it will work everywhere, not just obsidian!

Look how many extesions! https://pilotmoon.com/popclip/extensions/

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As far as I can tell, that 3-touch lookup gesture is only available to people with multi-touch trackpads or magic mice.

Furthermore, I personally disable it because it causes unintentional popups frequently. It’s too easy to trigger.

On the other hand, there is another feature that seems to work on an app-by-app basis. And this works with any input device, including mice, graphics tablets, iPad Sidecar, etc. You can ctrl-click on a word, and see a menu that contains “Look Up”. But that doesn’t work in all apps, including Obsidian.

For example, it works in nvAlt, Bear, Scrivener, BusyCal, Things. It works in Mail, Safari or any Apple app. It doesn’t work in Firefox or Obsidian. So it seems to be a very common feature, and it would seem it needs to be enabled somehow by the app.



Firefox doesn’t work:


I believe apps can replace the system contextual menu with one of their own. It seems an odd design choice to do so just for three items that are in the default menu anyway (cut, copy, paste), but it’s possible I’m misunderstanding what’s going on under the hood.

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Exactly. I also have the feeling that this function may be a “common feature” which may be embedded or enabled in (almost) every macOS application as long as the developer need it.

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Could this be the same as this thread? Services item in editor menu on Mac

Short answer: Yes, it’s probably the same request. Enabling more of the OS-integrated services and accessibility into the menu and right-click functionality. This request seems to be a subset of that more general request for Services.

Longer answer: Perhaps. They are two implementations of two similar things. In MacOs, “Look Up” either triggers that yellow box, which opens up a floating pop-up tool that can search dictionary, Siri suggestions, and more.

Or, “Look Up” can also open Dictionary.app.

There are at least three ways to trigger one or the other implementation. One way is through the 3-touch gesture. Another way is through the services menu. The other way is by ctrl-clicking or right-clicking “Look Up”. But it seems like it is up to each application to decide which tool opens when you do so.

When you ctrl-click or right click, you can also have access to the Services, but in Bear for example, the available options are different between right-click -> Services and Bear Menu -> Services. (I’m answering as a user, not a developer. I don’t know anything about these implementations!)


Just wanted to +1 this. Would be a great QOL feature for me

@GLight thanks for this .

I do not understand why the app has to hijack the contextual menu in a first place. Just show the native menu when running on Mac, some Mac users hate when web applications hide the native menu.

Hugely important for me :slight_smile:

the Search the internet plugin does this and you can add your own sites, such as translate or specific work-based ones.

Thanks for the info. I do appreciate the effort that everyone have made on this issue.

The internet based solution, from my point of view, is the nice-to-have option.
Since the Obsidian can live perfect in an offline environment and the MacOS native service can also work offline, I think the offline solution, such as integrating the MacOS native search function in the context menu will be more essential.


I’d like to +1 the Look Up menu specifically. Yes, on Mac, you can highlight a word and then three-finger-tap or force-click (depending on how your trackpad is configured), but that action opens the full Dictionary app from Obsidian.

This is considerably less convenient, for one main reason: unless Dictionary is already open, it doesn’t actually open to the definition of the highlighted word. It opens empty, and you have to either re-type the word into the Dictionary app, or go back to Obsidian, copy the word, then go back to Dictionary and paste it in.

With the Look Up function, clicking the highlighted word brings up the Look Up menu right inline in a large tooltip, with the definition of the selected word already there. It’s way faster and doesn’t require switching away from Obsidian.

With that in mind, I’d like to recommend implementing this: GitHub - sindresorhus/electron-context-menu: Context menu for your Electron app

It is designed to make it easy for an Electron app to add OS options into the context menu via some simple configuration. This would solve the Look Up request, along with the Services request. By default, the menu contains:

  • spellCheck
  • learnSpelling
  • separator
  • lookUpSelection
  • searchWithGoogle
  • cut
  • copy
  • paste
  • saveImage
  • saveImageAs
  • copyImage
  • copyImageAddress
  • copyLink
  • saveLinkAs
  • inspect
  • services