Daily Archives: April 22, 2020

emmetropic

What do you see here? And with what eyes do you see it?

I see these words on my screen with eyes that are myopic and presbyopic, and when I look at what else my screen shows me, my mind tends to hyperopic. I mean that I am nearsighted – I have been since my childhood, when I decided that I would look better with glasses (I was right) and so started reading books close up in low light, and I got what I wanted – and I now have eyes that have gotten old and don’t have as great a range of focus – so I have several pairs of glasses, depending on what I’m planning to do with my eyes, so accessorize your eyes! – and yet when I read what the web sends me I tend to see far-away things with more clarity than nearby ones: I am figuratively farsighted. (However, sometimes what I see makes me turn away and feel sick.)

In politics and planning and other matters of the world it is supposedly good to be farsighted, but of course you need to see near as well, and it is best to have a good range of focus. So really you need to have good focus at all ranges. And you cannot turn away, no matter how sick it makes you feel.

Is there a word for that?

Let’s look at this word emmetropic. Do you discern bits? Your eyes may settle quickly on tropic – we all like to think of warm climes at times, especially if we can’t go to them and it’s not so hot where we’re at – and then you are left with what emme might be. If it were emmet it could mean ants, but I don’t want to see tropical ants, if you don’t mind. How about the Greek root ἐμέω, which shows up in emetic? In that case, since tropic actually refers to turning, and since ἐμέω means ‘I vomit’, emetropic would mean ‘turning and vomiting’. But that’s one m too few, and one emesis too many.

Look again. Broaden your view to take in words such as myopic, presbyopic, and hyperopic, and narrow it from tropic to opic. You see that emmetropic has to do with eyes and sight, and it splits at a seam that’s not at the syllable boundary – sort of like how helicopter is from helico- ‘spiral’ and pter ‘wing’, not from heli ‘sun’ and copter‘absolutely nothing that the Greeks ever talked about’.

OK, but if it’s emmetr- plus opic (and it is), what is emmetr-? It is from ἔμμετρος emmetros, from ἔν en ‘in’ plus μετρος metros ‘measure’. So emmetropic means ‘having sight in [good] measure’, or ‘having emmetropia’, where emmetropia is ‘sight in [good] measure’ – in other words, having eyes that are in focus at all distances (save, of course, too damn close, which we can define as so close you might accidentally get what you’re looking at in your eye). The New Sydenham Society Lexicon, quoted by the OED, defines emmetropia as “The normal or healthy condition of the refractive media of the eye, in which parallel rays are brought to a focus upon the retina when the eye is at rest and in a passive condition.”

Parallel rays, like parallel lines, like the parallel tracks of a metro or the stems of mm. And of course as you look closer and your eyes change focus, the lines converge. Which is good. Because parallel lines never meet, and everything that involves seeing well enough to change anything eventually involves getting close enough to meet.

And how is that realized with our real eyes? …We’ll see. Just keep focus and don’t turn away.