TWIG Touch Dictionary: Interactivity Redefined

ImageWay back in the analog days, I took pleasure in dictionaries. I loved randomly riffling the whisper-thin pages of my disintegrating, red-bound Webster's, soaking up the arcana in my dad's weathered Funk & Wagnalls, and seeing where I landed.

Later came the two-volume condensed Oxford English Dictionary, the veddy proper case for which featured a drawer containing a magnifying glass — indispensable for reading the impossibly fine text required to fit this massive undertaking into a pair of hulking hardbacks. Its capacious etymological detail and timelines of word usage offered great, rolling fields of context. Clicking through, though convenient, never seems to afford the same sense of discovery.

This disparity may well have played a role in the creation of the TWIG Touch Dictionary*, an iPad-only application created by Dynamic Interface Solutions in collaboration with Oxford University Press.

Much like the acclaimed Visual Thesaurus, TWIG uses "mind-mapping" technology to create manipulable word trees that bloom, rather miraculously, before the user's eyes. And by using the gestures associated with touch-screen tech (dragging, sliding, pinching), you can endlessly reorganize the tree, opening various fronds of association, tapping the orange definition and origin "badges" open and shut, enlarging and reducing. Touch the icons at the top and you can save a word to your bookmarks list, adding notes to each entry. You can also share your word tree to a friend's Facebook wall.


Rearranging, folding and otherwise maneuvering the tree is a tactile delight. But this dance of finger, eye and word has a distinct pedagogical purpose: TWIG was predicated on the idea that users, particularly children, would learn more about language if they could play with it.

And while this sense of play, of kinetic movement and sculptural experimentation, certainly jazzes up the formerly stiff enterprise of searching and examining definitions onscreen, the app's most dazzling attribute is its shuffle feature.

The screen becomes a window onto a simulacrum of space (think Star Trek opening credits), only instead of stars, a random galaxy of words floats toward the user. Let them drift over you or click on one to explore it. It's a delicious way to delve arbitrarily into the universe of language.


TWIG was predicated on the idea that users, particularly children, would learn more about language if they could play with it.

You probably have to be a stone word nerd (and probably a sci-fi geek as well) to be as affected by this feature as I was, but I must admit I got a bit misty imagining the kids who would fall in love with the dictionary experience thanks to this inexhaustibly entertaining application.

It was all the more sobering, then, to encounter the often impenetrable, occasionally error-riddled copy in TWIG Touch's information tab. It appeared to have been written by software developers — or perhaps by the software itself — without any input from the linguistic lions at the OUP. What should be a reassuringly literary guide to the app's features is instead a syntactically garbled mass of tech-speak sprinkled with awkward sales pitches that sometimes seem to have been translated from another language:

This is how TWIG Touch Dictionary appears unique, unparalleled by any other in terms of both content and behavior to offer something truly bespoke, hand-made, solid, and worth the price.

TWIG's features are essentially focusing on the core dictionary process of exploring a language while being simple and intuitive at the same time.

TWIG Touch Dictionary really comes with a unique approach!

Would that the creators had hired writer-editors for the task of familiarizing users with TWIG Touch. I have no doubt they'll remedy the situation for the next iteration. In the meantime, if you want me I'll be in my spaceship watching the English language fly by.

Thanks to Dynamic Interface Solutions for sharing the TWIG Touch Dictionary with us.


*Update (June, 2012): This product has been renamed the Wordflex Touch Dictionary and now features fully revised informational copy (by EE).