Origin of Ophthalmic Terminology

OldgreekmanThe study of 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 now a days.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, pteygium, 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 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 = 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)
Lat. 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.
Strbismus = 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 - flesh; - eidos - resemblance
Pannus= Latin pannus - 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

Compiled by Dr. Parthopratim Dutta Majumder . You can mail him at drparthopratim@gmail.com