or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Near And Far

Jim figured he needed to bone up on his French, because we're planning another trip in a few years and this time we're definitely going to Paris and Grasse, so he hauled out a book of French vocabulary this afternoon and was flipping through it. It's not in alphabetical order or anything like that: it's arranged by subject matter, so you can learn a bunch of words and phrases appropriate to, say, going through customs, or shopping for clothing, or checking into the hotel. Chapter 18 was called "At The Optician's", and Jim noticed that the phrase "I am farsighted" was translated as "Je suis presbyte".

I knew that another name for farsightedness in English was "presbyopia", so that didn't come as a surprise, and I said so. But then Jim said, "Well, what about 'Presbyterian'?" and I had to admit that I had no idea how the two ideas could be connected, though obviously they had to be in some way.

The answer is so simple. The "-opia" part (it's also the ending of "myopia", or "nearsightedness") is related to "optic" and "optician"; it's from Greek "ops", "eye". The "presby-" part of all these words comes from Greek "presbys", "old man". Is it clear now? A presbytery, the source of "Presbyterian", is an ecclesiastical body of elders, and presbyopia, which is due to the loss or lack of elasticity in the lens of the eye, often comes with age.

"Myopia", since we're at it, is from Greek "myein", "to shut", presumably because in the days before corrective lenses were discovered, myopes squinted to see things a little more clearly.


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