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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Obscure Dictionaries A Bookworm's Delight

I used to think that I had a pretty good collection of Russian dictionaries. Aside from the usual English-Russian and Russian-English slovari (dictionaries), I have a normal Russian dictionary, a frazeologicheskii slovar' (phraseological dictionary), a slovar' sinonimov (dictionary of synonyms) and a slovar' inoyazychnykh slov (dictionary of foreign words). I even have a slovar' russkykh familii (dictionary of Russian last names).

But I recently read an article about Russian dictionaries that put my little collection to shame. It seems there are some interesting dictionaries out there I need to get a hold of.

What if, for instance, I need to know how many times the word solntse (sun) appears in Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace." Obviously, none of my dictionaries will tell me this. But the Chastotnyi slovar' romana L.N. Tolstogo "Voina i Mir" (Frequency Dictionary of L.N. Tolstoy's "War and Peace") will give you the answer.

The category of chastotniye slovari (frequency dictionaries) is completely missing from my reference shelf. The article I read even referred to a fascinating-sounding dictionary that I have never seen called 2,380 naiboleye upotrebitel'nykh slov russkogo yazyka (The 2,380 Most Commonly Used Words in the Russian Language). I am equally interested in finding out which words made the list and in learning why the authors chose 2,380 of them.

Or what if I want to know, for instance, all the neuter nouns in Russian that end with the letter ya? An ordinary dictionary won't be able to help me here. However, if I only had an obratnyi slovar' (reverse dictionary) handy, I would quickly come up with the list imya (name), vremya (time), znamya (banner), plamya (flame), plemya (tribe), semya (seed), temya (top of one's head), stremya (stirrup), bremya (burden) and the ever-popular vymya (udder).

An obratnyi slovar', you see, lists all the words in Russian in alphabetical order beginning with the last letter of the word. You might get a list of words like this: gerb (coat of arms), serb (Serb), ushcherb (harm), gorb (hump) and dub (oak). With inflected languages like Russian, such a dictionary makes sense, grouping words of similar declension patterns f such as the neuter nouns mentioned above f together. It also makes a good rhyming dictionary for you budding poets out there.

Perhaps somewhat more useful to the average language student is the Slovar' udarenii russkogo yazyka (Dictionary of Stress in the Russian Language). I don't have one myself (but I definitely should), but I do have some Russian friends who always seem to get into arguments about where the stress falls in obscure Russian words. No tea is complete at their house without someone pulling this dictionary off the shelf and triumphantly pointing out the error of someone else's ways. Now that's what dictionaries are for.