A faithful successor to the cause of Vladimir Dal, Sergey Ivanovich Ozhegov is known to any educated Russian the way Littré is known to an enlightened French person, and Webster – to an American.
The surname of Professor Ozhegov, the dictionary man who, to be more precise, was a linguist, lexicographer, lexicologist and a historian of the literary language, comes from the ancient Russian word ozheg, which means a poker. In the Urals where the famous linguist’s surname originated, the word ozheg referred to a stick that was dipped into hot metal.
Sergey Ozhegov said that he was descended from serfs to the Demidov family. Ozhegov did not follow in the footsteps of his grandfather the metallurgist or his father the engineer. The military career also failed to attract him: after the Civil War, he entered the Petrograd University. But a career in dictionaries did attract him: fresh out of the University, Ozhegov was noticed by Dmitry Nikolaevich Ushakov who then engaged him to work on his famous dictionary. And just before the Great Patriotic War, Ozhegov started his own dictionary. Since 1949, Ozhegov’s Dictionary of the Russian Language has run into over twenty editions, with a total of eight million copies printed. The dictionary is still in print, having outlived its creator by almost half a century. Ozhegov himself would joke that, in terms of copies printed, his dictionary could rival all the classic Marxists-Leninists combined. The success is easy to explain: anyone using the Russian language needs Ozhegov’s dictionary. It was the main reference source on the Russian language for the general reader in the pre-Internet era.