How does this word taste? Is it something succulent, even Lucullan, or is it more reminiscent of an occult octopus (or even Cthulhu)? Is it something from a deep and dark past? Or is it a messenger from the future, shining a light – or a beam of darkness?

It gives us so much to work with. Three syllables and only six letters, but look: in the heart, ulu, a word for a curved knife, shaped like a blade with a cup on either side; flanking that, c and s, one curve and two, related letters, passing through the ulu like an occult transformation; at the start, o, like an eye. This word seems made from Masonic symbolism like that pyramid on the US dollar bill. You know, the one with an all-seeing eye on it. Latin oculus omni.

That’s what oculus is: ‘eye’. If you have glasses, your prescription has lines for OD and OS. That stands for oculus dexter – ‘right eye’ – and oculus sinister – ‘left eye’. Hmm, dexter and sinister. Like the good and bad side of oculus. (Except lately people hear “Dexter” and think “serial killer.” Thanks, TV.)

What you may think of when you hear oculus will depend on the spheres you travel in. (Get it? Spheres? Eyeballs are… never mind, moving on.) If you geek out on virtual reality, you’ll immediately think of Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headset for gaming. If you’re in it, everything is awesome. But to outside observers, you look like a complete dork. So it’s all in where you see it from.

The same is probably true for the movie Oculus, which is a horror film made in 2013. Some people seem to have liked it; others found it… ridoculus.

If you’re into wine, particularly fairly good Okanagan wine, Oculus is the name of a line of Bordeaux-style blends from Mission Hill, a very nice looking winery set high above the lake with a full line of reliable wines and a heckuva tour. They named their pricy red blend Oculus after the architectural feature that lets light into their cellars.

Architectural feature. Yes, that’s really where you’ll see oculus. The circular skylight (if there is one) in the middle of a dome is an oculus. Similar round skylights in other parts of roofs are also called oculus (the plural would be oculi, but it’s not common to have more than one).

And then there’s the World Trade Centre. The new transportation hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava, has a feature they call an oculus. It is indeed a skylight. But it’s not exactly a hole in a dome. It’s the whole thing that’s there in place of a dome: a large humped ridge with wings, or spines; some have called it dinosaur bones. It may be seen to resemble a closed – or barely-open – eye with long eyelashes. There are a few other analogies also available. What it does not resemble is a round skylight. Or anything small. (The ulus ending suggests smallness. Compare loculus, ‘little place’, from locus, ‘place’; a loculus is a niche, for instance for bodies in a mortuary or catacombs.)

Well, so be it. It’s a bit of a crisp, arch word, with tastes bright and dark. I find it succulent like coquilles. But what I wonder most is: Is there a locus with an oculus in Ucluelet?

4 responses to “oculus

  1. Pingback: Trending words of 2014 | Dawn of the Unread

  2. With respect to the Oculus at the World Trade Center, I think you have mixed up the Fulton St Transit Center, which has an oculus, with the Calatrava PATH station, a block away, which does not.

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