Resource Review: Oxford Russian Dictionary (Fourth Edition)

Reviews compiled by Peter Gergay

Reviewed by: Boris Silversteyn

Editors: Marcus Wheeler and Boris Unbegaun (Russian>English); Paul Falla (English>Russian)

Revised and updated by: Della Thompson

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publication date: 2007

Number of pages/entries: 1,322 pages; 500,000 words, phrases, and translations

ISBN: 978-0-19-861420-3 (OUP main edition)

Price: $65/$37.62

Available from: Oxford University Press (OUP)/

Regular viewers of the TV Program “Jeopardy” may have noticed in the show’s credits that the questions/answers used in the program are based on information in Oxford University publications. This signifies the extent to which Oxford in the name of any dictionary has approximated a sort of a gold standard by which dictionaries are judged. It was no surprise that when the Oxford Hebrew Dictionary was reviewed in the January 2014 issue, it drew wide praise for its depth and scholarship.1 It was with this background in mind that Boris Silversteyn, past ATA secretary, was approached to review the Oxford Russian Dictionary. The end result of his evaluation of this work was a bit surprising. He found that the dictionary left a lot to be desired and did not live up to the expectations that many attach to an Oxford University publication. –Peter Gergay



The Oxford Russian Dictionary (ORD) is a hardcover book. The pages are arranged in three columns, with the first and last headword of the page appearing at the top of each page. The headword of each entry is bold. In addition, the alphabetical index listing of each letter appears in black on the edge of the page, thus creating another useful way of looking up terms quickly. All this makes it easier and faster to find a particular term.

An interesting feature is that the abbreviations used in this dictionary (and there are well over a hundred of them) are listed inside the front cover and repeated again inside the back cover (thus saving a couple of pages that can now be used to accommodate more entries). The abbreviations are in English, and their expansions are given both in English and Russian. British spelling is used, with U.S. variations also noted.

Functionality and Range of Content

According to the preface, this 2007 edition was “updated to include the most important new words and meanings that have entered Russian and English in recent years, especially as reflected in the areas … such as information technology, finance and commerce, medicine, and popular culture.” The dictionary also includes some proprietary names and trademarks, such as Breathalyzer, Dacron, and Херох.

The presence of several new features is emphasized, such as in-text notes about life and culture in Britain, the U.S., and Russia, and a section on writing letters, e-mail, and CVs in both languages. There are also guides to English and Russian pronunciation. (In the English>Russian section, each English term is accompanied by phonetic transcription using the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is helpful for non-native speakers of English.) There is also a summary of English grammar, a table of English irregular verbs, a section on Russian verbs, and a glossary of grammatical terms.

The Oxford University Press website claims that ORD is “[t]he most comprehensive and up to date Russian dictionary available—the market leader” [emphasis added]. I beg to differ.

A dictionary with “Oxford” in its title is almost by definition expected to be of the highest quality, but ORD falls short of my expectations. To be sure, it does have some good features. Among them numerous idioms and word collocations. Some entries are more comprehensive than in similar dictionaries. For instance, выступление is translated as “speech, appearance, statement, publication, performance, action, demonstration, protest, unrest, uprising, setting out, and departure.” (For comparison, Kenneth Katzner’s 1994 English-Russian, Russian-English Dictionary [thereafter, Katzner] provides “performance, appearance, speech, address, and campaign.”)

Another feature I like is that acronyms, including ВОЗ-WHO, ДНК- DNA, CPU-ЦП, FBI-ФРБ , and CIA-ЦРУ, are included alphabetically in the body of the dictionary rather than being listed in a separate section at the end of the book. But there are numerous shortcomings, some of which are mentioned below in no particular order.

To begin with, in many cases, ORD provides fewer target terms than can be found in other dictionaries, such as Katzner and the 2011 ABBYY Lingvo Comprehensive English-Russian Dictionary (ABBYY). It also sometimes misses commonly used source terms, as shown in the following tables:





actionable   имеет практическое значение дающий основание для судебного преследования, применимый на практике, имеющий большое практическое значение
byword  — Поговорка; любимое, часто повторяемое слово; олицетворение, символ
challenge вызов Вызов, сложная задача, проблема, оклик, опознавательные сигналы, возражение в ходе судебного разбирательства, отвод присяжных
commitment обязательство, преданность обязанность, долг, приверженность, выбор, ориентация, линия, политика, обязательство, ордер на арест
facility, facilities легкость; способность; сооружение возможность, благоприятные условия, льготы, легкость, плавность, удобства, услуги, оборудование, приспособления, аппаратура
old-timer старожил пожилой человек, старик, старожил, ветеран; человек старомодных, консервативных взглядов
open-minded широких взглядов, отзывчивый, восприимчивый, объективный, непредвзятый, непредубежденный
prosy нудный прозаичный, банальный, неоригинальный, скучный, неинтересный, прозаический
recension исправленный вариант, редакция просмотр и редактирование текста, просмотренный и отредактированный текст, исправленное издание
worshipful уважаемый, почтенный боготворящий, преклоняющийся, почтенный, уважаемый




вразброс separately scattered about, every which way
вразброд separately, in disunity separately, not together, without coordination
закоснелый incorrigible, inveterate inveterate, confirmed, ingrained, deep-seated


Then there are inaccuracies. Here is what ORD offers for “belt”: (of leather) ремень; (of linen) пояс. And here is what Sergei Ivanovich Ozhegov’s Explanatory Dictionary of the Russian Language says: “ремень – длинная полоса кожи (или плотной ткани); пояс – лента, шнур, ремень (кожаный пояс).”

Another example is “лечебница – clinic (usu. psychiatric or veterinary).” But Ozhegovs definition reads: “лечебница – лечебное учреждение специального назначения (глазная клиника).” Katzner agrees with Ozhegov: “лечебница – (special) hospital.”

One more example is “blond(e)блондинка,” while the 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary distinguishes between “blond” when used to describe a boy or man (i.e., блондин) and “usu. blonde” when used to describe a girl or woman (блондинка).”

Should an authoritative publication such as an Oxford dictionary be free of typos? Well, ORD isn’t. For instance, “irreducible – не поддающий упрощению.”

Speaking of не поддающий, I’m wondering if native speakers of Russian were involved in working on this dictionary. If they were, how could they allow things like “branch office” (филиальное отделение)? Or “overkill” (пушками по воробьям)? Or вешать (“to weigh, weigh out”), and вешаться (определять свой вес), which is defined as “to weigh oneself?”

Another indication of non-involvement of native speakers of Russian is a complete misunderstanding of the current usage, and hence a mistranslation, of пахан. ORD offers “father, old man; head, boss,” whereas the second edition (2007) of Stephen Marder’s A Supplementary Russian-English Dictionary translates it correctly as “criminal boss, ringleader.”

Perusing ORD, I have been amazed by its occasional sloppiness. For instance, there is the entry “вопьюсь, вопьёшься – see впить.” The problem here is that there is no entry for впить. What else to but sloppiness can one attribute to the fact that while rivers such as the Seine, Rhone, and Tiber are included, the Dnieper, Lena, Ob, and Yenisei are not?

There also seems to be no coordination between the Russian>English and English>Russian sections of ORD. As has been mentioned above, лечебница is translated as “clinic,” but in the English>Russian section, the only Russian term for “clinic” is клиника. What happened to лечебница?

One more example appears in the Russian>English section. Here we find “кесарево сечение – Caesarian (Br)/Cesarean (US) section,” but in the English>Russian section, we find “Caesarian/Cesarean birth/operation – кесарево сечение.” Where is the “Caesarian/Cesarean section?”

Overall Evaluation

I could continue listing ORD’s shortcomings (and the list would be longer than what has already been mentioned), but you are getting the picture. In my opinion, ORD is a mediocre dictionary. However, if you need to know the English for валандаться, духан, окургузить, or the Russian for “charcuterie, (chesty),” then by all means go ahead and buy it. At $37.62 from Amazon, it’s a steal.


Nowodworski, Eliezer. “Review of Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary” (The ATA Chronicle, January 2014), 32,

About the Reviewer

Boris Silversteyn is the immediate past secretary of ATA. He also served on the Board of Directors and as chair of ATA’s Divisions and Dictionary Review Committees. He is a Russian and Ukrainian translator and interpreter specializing in science and technology, finance, business, law, and the environment. He is an ATA-certified English<>Russian translator and a grader for ATA’s English>Russian and English>Ukrainian certification exams. Contact:

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