Thursday, August 22, 2013

Word of the day: presbyopia

I went in for my biennial eye exam this week and learned that I have presbyopia. No, I am not seeing the world through Presbyterian eyes — though in a way I am.

The Oxford English Dictionary makes presbyopia sound dire:

Deterioration of near vision occurring with advancing age, owing to increasing rigidity of the lens of the eye with reduction in the power of accommodation.
The New Oxford American Dictionary sounds not nearly as bad:
farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, occurring typically in middle and old age.
My optometrist’s explanation was closer to the NOAD. Presbyopia is a matter of becoming more farsighted with age. It’s a fact of life, and it’s why the gods gave us progressive lenses.

But why presby-? My optometrist said it had to do with age. Sure enough: presbyopia joins the Greek πρέσβυς [presbus, “old man”] and the “post-classical Latin -opia or its etymon ancient Greek -ωπία.” The ending -opia (“forming terms denoting visual disorders and abnormalities,” such as ambylopia and myopia) joins -op, “eye” and the suffix -ia. That suffix, used in both Greek and Latin, turns up everywhere — Australia, dahlia, mania. And, says the OED, “in French -ia became -ie, whence Middle English -ie, English -y.” Nouns ending in -ency, -ography, and -ology owe their -y to the ancient -ia.

And why Presbyterian? The OED explains:
In Presbyterian Churches no higher order than that of presbyter or elder is recognized, the “bishop” and “elder” . . . of the New Testament being held to be identical. All elders are ecclesiastically of equal rank; but, in their function in the church, while some are “ruling and teaching elders” or “ministers,” others are only “ruling elders” (popularly called “lay elders,” but erroneously, since all elders are ordained or “in orders”).
I’m glad I went in for my eye exam and got these things cleared up.

[All quotations and examples are from the OED.]

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