Word Root : Origin of Ophthalmic Terms

Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder
Published Online: April 1st, 2021 | Read Time: 6 minutes, 58 seconds

The study of the origin of word is known as etymology. Most of the ophthalmic terminology is derived from Greek and Latin words. Most probably Hippocrates (460-370 BC) was the first to use specific ophthalmic terms that we are still using nowadays. He has been credited for using the terms like amblyopia, hippus, nystagmus & phthisis. Similarly, terms like canthus, exophthalmos, glaucoma, and leukoma are thought o be the contribution of Aristotle (384-322 BC). It was Galen (13 l-201 AD) who used the terms like chalazion, chemosis, iris, mydriasis, pterygium, strabismus, and trichiasis. Here in this section, I have compiled some terms of ophthalmology with their root of origin.

Canthus= Greek word “kanthas” = angle
Levator palpebrae superioris = In Latin, “levator” = to lift, “palpebrae” = an eyelid, superioris = upper
Caruncle = Latin word means flesh.
Plica semilunaris = Latin word “Plicare” = to fold, “semilunaris” = half moon.
Tarsus = Greek word means flat, Ancient greeks used to call various flat object as tarsus- suchas wing of bird, blades of sword.
Chalazion= A Greek word which means “hailstones”.
Papilla= A Latin word means elevation
Punctum= A Latin word means point
Lacrima = Latin word for tear
Conjunctiva = “conjoin” = to join = as this structure (mucous membrane) joins eyeball to the lids.
Pterygium = In Greek means wing (of a butterfly)
Pinguicula = Greek “ pinguis” = fat
Cornea = “Kerato” or Latin " cornu" means horn-like. Ancient greeks used to believe that cornea is derived from the thinly sliced horn of animal.
Choroid= from greek word “chorion”
Aqueous = Latin word for 'water'
Acanthamoeba= Greek akantha - thorn, spine; amoibe – change
Humour = Latin “humour” = moist.
Gonio= from greek means corner
Scopy = means examination
Sclera = Greek “scleros” = hard (“epi” = upon)
Lamina cribrosa = Latin ‘cribrum’ = sieve
Uvea = Latin word “uva” = a grape, Why a grape? Well, the idea was that, if the stem is removed from a grape, the hole looks like the pupil and the grape the eyeball.
Iris = Greek word “iris” = rainbow,(a greek goddess)
Pupil = Greek “pupa” = a small doll like figure.
Zonule = both greek & latin word means belt or ring
Coloboma = greek word means curtailed or mutilated
Vitreous = Latin “vitreous” means glass
Retina = latin term for 'net'
Macula lutea = Latin “macula” = a spot, “lutea” = yellow.
Fovea centralis = latin for central small pits/depression
Optic Chaisma = from greek word chi or ? ,which means crossing ( greek ? was given Galen, famous greek physician)
Lateral Geniculate body = Latin “genu” = knee (because of its knee shaped structure)
Focus = Latin word means fireplace, as fireplace was the central point of any room in ancient times.
Emmetropia = Greek “em” = within, “metro’ = measure & “opia” = eye.
Acuity= Latin acuo - to sharpen (similar word of origin acupuncture,acute,just note the use of Acuo)
Hypermetroopia = Greek “hyper” =beyond, “metro” = measure, “opia” = eye.
Myopia = Greek “my” = close & “opia” = eye
Aniseikonia=Greek “an” = not, “iso” = equal & “eikon” =images
Aphakia = Greek “a” = Absent, “phaco” = Lens
Presbyopia = Greek “presbyo” = old, “opia” = eye
Spectacle = Latin “spectaculum” = show
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca = Latin sica =dryness.
Herpes=Greek “herpes” = creep, (metaherpetic keratitis , “meta” = after)
Corneal dystrophy = Greek “dys” = defective, “trophy” = nourishment
Corneal guttata =Latin “gutta” = drop
Glaucoma = Greek “glaukos”= bluish gray
Buphthalmos = greek “buph” = ox
Applanation = Latin “ ad planare” = to flatten
Tonography = Greek “tonos” = which can be stretched, “graphos’ = write.
Strabismus = Greek “strabismos” = twisted
Epicanthus = “Epi” =upon, canthus = angle.
Orthoptics = “orthos” = straight & “ops” = eye.
Amblyopia = Greek “amblyo” = dull/lazy, “ops” = eye.
Rhegmatogenous = Greek “rhegma” = hole,
Retinoschisis = Greek “schisis” = to split
Arteriosclerosis = Greek “scleros” = hard, Latin “osis” = full of.
Exudates = Latin “exe” = out, “sudare” = to sweat
Neovascularisation =Greek “neo” = new.
Circinate retinopathy= Latin, circum =circle
Vitelliform degeneration = Latin “vitellus” = egg yolk
Angioid streaks = greek “angi” = vessels
Tapetoretinal Degeneration = Greek “tapetum” = carpet
Xanthelasma = Greeks “xanthus” = yellow “elamos” = a metal plate.
Hemangiomas = Greek “haima” = blood “angioma”= tumor of vessels
Leukocoria = Greek “leuko” = white“kore” = pupil.
Microaneyrysm = Greek “aneurysma” = a swelling.
Amaurosis= Greek "amauros" means dark and "osis"- condition
Atropine= Greek "Atropos" = undeviating; one of the three Fates, fabled to cut the thread of life”(because of the lethal nature of the plant Atropa belladonna)
Bombe = French "Bombi" means rounded, bulging
Exophthalmos = Greek, ex = out of, ophthalmos = eye
Optic Nerve = Greek “optikos” = an eye.
Occipital area = Latin “oc” =back of, “caput”=head.
Trigeminal nerve = Latin “trigeminus” = triplets.
Trochlear nerve = Latin word means pulley.
Ophthalmoplegia = Greek “plegia” means paralysis.
“ec” = out
“tomy” = to cut
“Ectomy” = to cut out
Cataract = Greek "katarrhakies" - a downrushing means something that rushes out like a waterfalls
Haptics = Greek “haptics” = to lay hold of
Dellen= plural of Dutch delle - low ground, pit
Dendrite= Greek dendron – tree
Diopter= Greek dioptra - leveling instrument
Drusen= plural of German druse – bump
Hippus= Greek hippos - horse (spasmodic movements of the iris fancifully suggesting the galloping of a horse)
Sarcoid= Greek 'sarx' means flesh and '-eidos' denotes resemblance
Pannus= Latin 'pannus' means cloth


Schisis= Greek schizo - to cleave or split, to separate (hence schizophrenia)
Scintillans= Latin scintilla – spark
Xerosis = Greek xeros – dry
Luxated = Latin word means dislocated.
Keratome = greek “tome”= to incise.
Blepharoplasty = Greek “blepharo” = eyelids.
Dacryo = Greek “Dakryon” = tear.
Entropion = “en” = in, “tropia” = to turn. Ectropion =“ec” = out, “tropia” = to turn

Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder
Sankara Nethralaya, Chennai
Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder is working as senior consultant in the department of uvea, Sankara Nethralaya. He has attended and presented paper in various national and international conferences. His areas of interest include Scleritis, Pediatric uveitis, Medical management of uveitis and scleritis, Phacoemulsification in uveitic cataract. He has published many articles in various peer and non-peer reviewed journals. He has written several chapters in various ophthalmology books and edited four books Recent advances on Uveitis, Retinal and Choroidal Imaging in Systemic Diseases, Modern System of Ophthalmology (Uvea) and Essentials in Ophthalmology for the post-graduates. He has authored two scientific monographs on Polymerase chain reaction in ophthalmology and Scleral Inflammations, published by All India Ophthalmology Society.
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