How to quickly look up maps, movies, and more in OS X

SpotlightIconXOften when you need to look up some details about a topic at hand, you open a Web browser and search for it using your preferred search engine; however, there are a few services in OS X that give you quick access to information about words you might be thinking about, or words that you might be reading. For instance, if a friend sends you an iMessage about watching a specific movie, then you might find that you can look up information about the movie, without needing to switch to any browser.

The service that allows for this is available in two basic forms: through spotlight, and through OS X’s contextual menu. In later versions of OS X, Spotlight has evolved to include Web searches, that allow for finding details about local venues, shows, and other things you might want to search for online. With Spotlight being available by a quick keystroke, this may make searching with it a bit more convenient than switching to your Web browser.

  1. Press Command-Space to invoke a Spotlight search
  2. Type the desired word (or paste copied words by pressing Command-V)

Internet search suggestions should now appear if applicable to the search results, such as showtimes for a movie title, or locations for a restaurant. If these are not showing up, then go to the Spotlight system preferences and check “Spotlight Suggestions” in the “Search Results” tab, along with dragging this category further up in the list so it’s more noticeable in Spotlight.

Even more convenient than Spotlight is the ability to access these searches contextually. By right-clicking a word or selection of words, you can choose the option to look it up, which will invoke the same Spotlight Suggestions feature within the lookup panel. Note that if you use a multi-touch trackpad then simply tapping a word or word selection with three fingers will invoke the same panel.

This approach has classically looked up the word in the OS X Dictionary, and also given you access to Wikipedia entries for the word, but with Spotlight Suggestions this now supports the same internet searches that are available in Spotlight. If applicable, various search options for the terms you are looking up will be available along the bottom of this window.

Contextual spotlight suggestions in OS X

Right-clicking a word and choosing “Look Up…” will show you its definition, and potentially other information about it, including maps to locations and showtimes.

Since this will look up words from practically any text location on your system, you can also use it for quick searches from any document or text field in which you are typing. Simply type the words of the phrase you want to search, and then highlight it and use the contextual option to look it up. Granted Spotlight may be the more convenient approach here, but it is another option available to you.

With these approaches for looking things up, if you get a message about a topic, then while you might be accustomed to opening your browser, try instead to use Spotlight or just tap the word. Granted these options only use one or two services, but they may be all you need to quickly get the information you want.