Daily Archives: May 15, 2009


An amazing word to pop the eyes of any Scrabble player. And it certainly has a zinfandel-like zest on the tongue. It appears to be made of a bricolage of bits of fashionable words, and it ends with that grail of fad nutrition, thin. The x, at the crossroads (or crosseyes) of the word, is, as often, a misleader; anglophones, certain they can’t begin a syllable with [ks], say [z] there instead, giving this word a double buzz. But where does this word come from, and what does it signify? If you’re not a Piers Anthony fan, xanth probably has at best faint resonances (xanthan gum, perhaps, spotted on ingredient lists). In fact, it comes from the Greek for “yellow.” As to zea, it’s a little Linnaean lingo: Linnaeus took the Latin for “spelt” (taken respelt from the Greek) and applied it to a different grain, Zea mays, maize. Well, but what breadcrumbs lead us now out of this lexical maze? Never mind – punch your way out, like Popeye; just make sure to have your spinach first. Although zeaxanthins were first isolated in maize, they are also found in spinach and other vegetables, and they protect them from blue light (isn’t that special?). They are a kind of carotenoid. And if you remember that carotene is supposed to be good for your sight, well, it is, and zeaxanthin is. Superfoods may be faddish, true, but it’s not just pop nutrition to protect the eyes.