Max Julius Friedrich Vasmer (February 28, 1886 – November 30, 1962) was a Russian-born German linguist who studied problems of etymology of Indo-European, Finno-Ugric and Turkic languages and worked on history of Slavic, Baltic, Iranian, and Finno-Ugric peoples.
Vasmer was born to German parents in St. Petersburg and graduated from the St. Petersburg University in 1907. Since 1910, he delivered lectures there as a professor. During the Russian Civil War, he worked in the Universities of Saratov and Yuryev (Tartu). In 1921 he settled in Leipzig but later moved to Berlin. In 1938–39, he delivered lectures at Columbia University in New York City. It was there that he started to work on his magnum opus, the Etymological dictionary of the Russian language. He delivered the eulogy for Professor Aleksander Brückner in Berlin Wilmersdorf in 1939 and he took over the chair of Slavistic studies at the Berlin University.
In 1944, Vasmer's house in Berlin was bombed, and most of his materials perished. Nevertheless, Vasmer persevered in his work, which was finally published in four volumes by Heidelberg University in 1950–58 as Russisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch. Vasmer died in West Berlin on November 30, 1962.
The Russian translation of Vasmer's dictionary with extensive commentaries by Oleg Trubachyov was printed in 1964–73. It is the most authoritative source for Slavic-languages etymology to this day. The Russian version is available on Sergei Starostin's Tower of Babel web site.
Another monumental work led by Max Vasmer was the compilation of a multi-volume dictionary of Russian names of rivers and other bodies of water. He was the initiator of an even more major project, completed by a team of workers after his death: the creation of a monumental (11 volumes) gazetteer that included virtually all names of populated places in Russia found both in pre-revolutionary and Soviet sources.
- "Wörterbuch der russischen Gewässernamen" (Dictionary of Russian Hydronyms); compiled by A. Kernd'l, R. Richhardt, and W. Eisold, under leadership of Max Vasmer. Wiesbaden, O. Harrassowitz, 1961
- "Russisches geographisches Namenbuch" (The book of Russian Geographic Names), founded by Max Vasmer. Compiled by Ingrid Coper et al. Wiesbaden, Atlas and Volumes 1-9. O. Harrassowitz, 1964-1981. The additional volume 11 appeared in 1988, ISBN 3-447-02851-3, and an additional atlas volume in 1989, ISBN 3-447-02923-4.