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What is vocab?

Vocab is a DataBase of vocabulary words which its users thought were cool, interesting, fun, and/or worth learning.  I created it initially when I was back at Amdahl (1987-89), and many people have contributed to its contents. Later, when I was at Silicon Graphics/SGI (1993-98) and the web/internet started taking off, I got the idea to revive vocab as a CGI/web program with a public/shareable DB on the server.

Friendly Disclaimer:  Nobody, save for the conscience of those contributing, expurgates the entries.  Any personal names used in the example sentences may or may not refer to someone you know, and I am not responsible for what's in the vocab DataBase--not now, nor in the future.  :-)

The 'vocab.db' DB is accessed by the 'vocab' program, which is written in perl.  Vocab will print a random entry from the DB when run in a Unix or MSDOS shell (or when you hit the "Reload button when your web browser is pointed at this page).  It has been used for amusement, GMAT preparation, the recording of "historical" or comical events, enhancement of personal vocabularies, and stress reduction through "aggressive vocab'ing" (ie, entering words/sentences to the vocab DB about "the stressor").  One happy GMAT taker told me that 8 of the words on the vocabulary section of the GMAT he took were words that he learned (and would not have otherwise known) via vocab!

I, personally, have used it in conjunction with breaktimer and vocab.xwsh to periodically lock my screen and force me to take a didactic typing break.  You can also have it run each time you login or logout, have it run periodically via a "cron" job, etc.

How do I install vocab on my Unix/Linux machine?

(Note: These instructions assume that you have some working knowledge of the shell/command line, how to locate/edit text files, etc.  If that's not the case for you, of I've made too many assumptions here and something doesn't work, feel free to with what you tried and where you got stuck.  :-)

  1. Download the vocab script by clicking here (Save as text file named: 'vocab').
  2. Make vocab executable: Type "chmod a+x vocab" at the Unix/Linux shell prompt.
  3. Download the vocab DataBase by clicking here (Save as text file named: 'vocab.db').
  4. Vocab expects that you have /usr/local/bin/perl installed.  If Perl is installed in a different directory, change the first line of the vocab script to reflect this or make a symlink from /usr/local/bin/perl to wherever it lives on your system.  You can find where perl is installed on your system by typing "which perl" at a command prompt.
  5. (Optional) Set environment variable VOCAB_DB = location of vocab.db file.  [Note: You can skip this step if you put the vocab.db file in the same directory as the vocab script.  If you do decide to perform this step--ie, if you want to put the vocab script and the vocab.db files in different directories--see the Step 5 Example below.]
  6. Put vocab in a directory on your execution path, OR add something like:
alias vocab /path/to/vocab-script/vocab

...to the .cshrc, .bashrc, .bash_profile, .profile, or equivalent login file in your home directory.

NOTE1: Replace "/path/to/vocab-script" with the full pathname of the directory where you put the vocab script.

NOTE2: Depending on what operating system you're on, you can see which directories are on your execution path by typing "env", "printenv", "echo $PATH", or "echo %PATH%" at a command prompt and looking at the contents of your "PATH" variable.

NOTE3: If you don't put vocab in a directory that's on your execution path (or create an alias), you can still run it from within the directory where you put it by typing "./vocab" at the shell prompt.


setenv VOCAB_DB /home/raffals/lib/vocab.db

(Suggested: Add this line to the .login, .bash_profile, .profile, or equivalent login file in your home directory.  Though .login and .bash_profile are best for environment variables, adding this line to your .cshrc or .bashrc will also work.  :-)

How do I install vocab on my PC or Mac?

Yes, vocab runs on PCs and Macs, too!  If you're on a Mac running OS-X, then you're actually running FreeBSD Unix.  Open a terminal window to get to a Unix shell prompt (Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal), and follow the Unix instructions above.

On a PC or pre-OS-X Mac, you'll need have a Perl interpreter installed (unless someone can find me a perl2exe program!  :-).  You can download a good Perl interpreter here: http://aspn.activestate.com/ASPN/Downloads/ActivePerl/   Perform steps 1 & 3 above, and put both the vocab script and the vocab DB in the same directory/folder.  Then, in a MSDOS Command shell, for example, you just type "perl vocab"

C:\vocab>perl vocab

CATERWAUL /KAT er wol/ - v
1) to make a harsh cry
2) to quarrel noisily

Every Saturday night, without fail, the couple in the next apartment
would CATERWAUL until the sun came up.

Ok, I've installed vocab. Now, how do I run it?

At a Unix shell prompt, just type "vocab"

> vocab

(or 'vocab -h' for Help)

  NOTE: If you didn't put vocab in a directory that's on your execution path (or create an alias) as per Step #6 above, you can still run it from within the directory where you put it by typing "./vocab" at the shell prompt.

At an MSDOS Command shell prompt, you'd type "perl vocab"

C:\vocab>perl vocab


two-songs{raffals:/home/raffals}6: vocab bib

BIBULOUS /BIB ye les/ - adj
fond of alcoholic beverages

The members of the BIBULOUS microbus club were to be found at every
party, never more than 2 feet from the keg.

two-songs{raffals:/home/raffals}29: vocab

MEPHITIS /me FITE es/ - n
a noxious, pestilential, or foul exhalation from the earth

We thought we had discovered a MEPHITIS near the fountain, yet
soon realized that it was merely Jeff returning from lunch.

How can I add a word to the vocab DataBase?

You have two options:
  1. To add your new words to your the local/private vocab DB (just on your machine), follow the instructions in the beginning of your local vocab.db file and then edit vocab.db accordingly.  Or,
  2. Click here to add a word to the global/shared (web) vocab DB for everyone to see.

Ok, I've added a word to the global/shared vocab DB.  Now, I want to update the local vocab.db on my machine.  What do I do?

Just click here to download latest vocab.db.

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