Vladimir Dal wore a lot of hats and dabbled in many careers, from a stint in the Russian Navy, to practicing medicine, to writing fairytales. But the Russian scholar is perhaps best remembered for capturing the richness and depth of the Russian language in his four-volume magnum opus Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language. The encyclopedic work contains more than 200,000 Russian words and 30,000 Russian sayings.
In commemoration of what would have been the 216th birthday of the great Russian lexicographer, or word scholar, Google’s Doodle team put together a slideshow depicting Dal’s tireless travels through Russia. Dal was born on Nov. 22, 1801, in what is now modern-day Ukraine. He grew up among a family of linguists and scholars, where speaking five or more languages was not out of the ordinary.
After retiring from his work as a military doctor, including time on the front lines during the Russo-Turkish War, Dal spent years scouring Russia’s countryside, collecting verbal histories, traditions, proverbs and unique phrases in all different dialects. His travels and notes served as the underpinning for his expansive dictionary.
Dal’s dictionary was considered so instrumental that novelist Vladimir Nabokov said he resolved to read ten pages of it every night while in university.