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A Dictionary App that REMEMBERS words you've looked up before
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What Was that Word

A dictionary app that stores your history, effectively doubling as a vocabulary list.

Live on the Web


No Login Required

No login is required. Users are differentiated by a cookie stored during their first visit.

Share Your List Across Browsers and Devices

Take your cookie with you to bridge other browsers together. (Look for the link at the bottom of the home page)

Merriam-Webster Data

Pulls data from the free Merriam-Webster API


back-end:    Python, Flask, uWSGI, Redis, lxml
front-end:   ReactJS
data-source: Merriam-Webster API (xml)

Directory Structure

doc/          # Documentation, including API payloads and RATIONALE for decisions
jsx/          # Edit these jsx files
node_modules/ # Node modules are stored in source control to make deployment easy  # Why decisions were made
bin/          # Executable utilities
static/       # JSX files are compiled and output here (Do not edit manually)
templates/    # jinja2 templates  # Python script that runs site       # Python class for interacting with dictionary API


Install python3, pip3, and required python modules:

# Build Dependencies
sudo apt-get build-dep -y python3-lxml

# Packages
sudo apt-get install -y redis-server python3 python3-pip python3-setuptools

# Python Modules
pip3 install --user flask livereload requests redis lxml

# Npm libraries (Skip this if /node_modules and package.json are in git)
# See
npm install --save-dev babel-cli babel-preset-react


In development mode:

  • JavaScript libraries are served from local disk

  • LiveReload is automatically activated

  • Code is loaded automatically when it changes

    cd whatwasthatword/

    Start server


    Compile .jsx files to .js whenever they change

    npx babel --presets react --watch jsx/ --out-dir static/

Point your browser to localhost:3956

Commonly Edited Files:

* jsx/that-word.js
* templates/index.jj2

Generated Files (Do Not Edit Manually):

* static/that-word.js


If using in production, configure Nginx

cd whatwasthatword/
vi config/whatwasthatword-nginx.conf  # Set the server names you wish to use
cd /etc/nginx/sites-enabled
sudo ln -s /path/to/whatwasthatword/config/whatwasthatword-nginx.conf
sudo nginx -s reload


The unix socket must readable/writable by both nginx and uwsgi.

The easiest solution is to make sure both nginx and uwsgi run as the same user (www-data).

# Install uwsgi and python3 plugin
sudo apt install uwsgi-core uwsgi-plugin-python3

# Install required python modules system-wide (So www-data can access them)
sudo apt-get install python3-flask python3-livereload python3-redis python3-lxml

# Test uwsgi from the command line running as the www-data user
cd whatwasthatword
sudo uwsgi --plugin=python3 -s /tmp/whatwasthatword.sock --manage-script-name --mount /=wsgi:app --uid www-data --gid www-data


(Work in Progress)

Ideally, you want uWSGI to autostart.


  • Run via emperor

  • Either all single or all double quotes in source code

  • Run over httpS / let's encrypt

  • Clean README

  • Get "share with other browser" to work (livereload showing up)

  • Assign stripe colors via css ::even to avoid striping errors on delete

  • Clean Python

  • Better organization of README

  • Copy-and-pastable "Share with other browser" link (Currently doesn not allow copy)

  • Play mp3 inline, instead of it loading a new webpage

  • return "vietnam" as "Vietnam", but still prefer lower case words if available

  • Expansion for more info?

  • Great Favicon

  • Show that word is being fetched

  • Autofocus search bar

  • Optimize padding breakpoint for android phones

  • Make input bigger on phone

  • Make speaker display correct size android

  • When I type "looking" I want results for "look", since that is what api returns

  • Spellchecker in text box

  • Clean up the

    tag processing to use the elegance of xpath more coherently

  • When more than one example per definition, show them all. Example: "snobby"

  • Remove "as" from the definition of "jack", or find out what it is there for

  • Make it autoplay the .mp3 for anything you search

  • Capitalization: when input is "Run", I want the word to display as "run". When word is "greek", display "Greek"

  • Allow plurals to be singularized and match

  • Better pronunciation for word "Oedipus"

  • Get "twirp" to work (twerp works fine)

  • Fix so that after hitting "back" from listening to mp3, most recent word shows up

  • Get word "were" to work (definition is buried in the etymology)

  • Longer cookie expiration

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