How to make your Mac’s dictionary popup way, way faster

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spotlight popup
A spotlight, looking something up.
Photo: Richard Ciraulo/Unsplash

What happens when you use a three-finger tap on your Mac’s touchpad to look up a word? In olden times, it would bring up a dictionary definition, instantly. Today, it probably doesn’t do anything. Not for a few seconds at least. Or rather, it pops up a panel right away, but then it takes a few seconds to load whatever Siri reckons you might be looking for.

So, how do we stop this madness? Easy. We switch it off in the Mac’s settings, aka System Preferences.

Spotlight Suggestions in Look up

Sure, Siri. That's exactly what I wanted. Mac Spotlight Suggestions can be lame.
Sure, Siri. That’s exactly what I wanted.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Here’s what my “dictionary” popover panel looks like when I try to look up “seconds,” a word chosen more-or-less randomly from my previous paragraph. The first panel is the dictionary definition. And then there are options to read Siri Knowledge, get movie info, see an app from the App Store, and check out related “web videos.”

It’s all junk. Siri Knowledge might be handy (it’s Wikipedia, repackaged), but the rest is fluff. Or rather, it’s potentially useful, but it ruins the entire lookup experience. Instead of loading the dictionary instantly, and then pulling in the rest of the query results, Spotlight Suggestions waits for everything to load before filling the panel. It just sits there, a blank white rectangle, waiting. Waiting for something like this:

WTF Look up?
WTF Look up?
Photo: Cult of Mac

How to fix popup dictionary definitions on the Mac

Customize Spotlight in the Mac System Preferences.
Customize Spotlight in the System Preferences.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The fix is simple, and comes by way of Mac writer Craig Mod on Twitter. Open up System Preferences, click to open the Spotlight pane, and uncheck the box that says Allow Spotlight Suggestions in Look up. Now, when you tap a word with three fingers, you see this:

Fast and simple. Streamline your Mac Spotlight Suggestions and get rid of the junk.
Fast and simple.
Photo: Cult of Mac

I looks much better. And it displays much more quickly. The dictionary-only lookup is instant. And if you want to actually look something up? Do it in Spotlight on your iPhone. You’ll get a ton of results, and it’s way quicker. Or just do a web search in Safari.

This is a great tip, and now I’m searching for more tips and tricks to slim down my Mac and make it feel faster. If you have any, let us know.