This word is nothing to blink at. Or maybe it is – that stack of vertical lines might throw your eyes off for a moment. But how do we open it up?

You might look in the middle first and see blep, which probably sounds like dyspepsia. Add a letter, though, and you have bleph, which you may have seen in a medical term somewhere. Blepharitis? Blepharospasm?

Let’s start at the beginning. You have call, which seems familiar enough. Or perhaps you have callible. Able to be called? But what is able to be called? Um, phary? Would that mean you could call Pharrell Williams? Well, that would make some people happy, though others might throw shade. Perhaps it’s related to phare, which means ‘lighthouse’? So calliblephary would be a lighthouse available on call?

In fact, it does have something to do with shining beacons that can be swung your way. But the real bits are calli, as in callipygian, from Greek κάλλος kallos ‘beautiful’, and blephary, from βλέϕαρον blefaron ‘eyelid’.

So it means ‘beautiful eyelids’? Or ‘the state of having beautiful eyelids’? Not quite. The –ary in this case is an instrumental suffix, as in aquarius ‘water carrier’ (yes, I know that’s from Latin; this is an English word, not a Greek one). So calliblephary – which, by the way, is meant to be said “cal a blef a ree” (/ˌkæləˈblɛfəri/) – means ‘eye makeup’ or, more specifically, ‘eyeshadow’.

I came of age in the ’80s, and I must say I still have a bit of a fondness for a nice striking green or blue (especially mildly iridescent) eyeshadow. One doesn’t get to see that too often these days, but it seems to me at least that it’s on the way back. Perhaps the word will be too. I have hope that occasionally a literate lady or lad will say from the bathroom, “Have you seen my calliblephary applicator?”

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