Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cataract



A cataract is defined as a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision, a common occurrence in the elderly. The word has a fascinating origin.

The original Greek version (καταρ(ρ)άκτης) meant a downrushing, a waterfall, a floodgate, or a portcullis. The last meaning seems out of place until you recall that a portcullis was a latticed grate or gate that could be lowered to protect the entrance to a castle. In other words, the direction is down for all those meanings.

The first English use translated it as floodgate, and it was biblical in origin.

            (1) Genesis 7. xi:  . . . on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.
            (2)  Genesis 8. ii:  Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.

The word cataract was then applied to a downspout, a waterfall, and a violent downpour of rain. The portcullis meaning showed up in 1360, and the medical term in 1547. For a person with advanced cataracts, the world is cloudy and indistinct, as if standing behind a waterfall or looking through a screen.


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition
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