Whilst engaged in my customary practice of spectacularly losing in a game of Words with Friends recently, my eye was caught by their ‘word of the day’. I practically gasped in amazed fascination as I read, ‘orbisculate: to accidentally squirt juice and/or pulp from a grapefruit into one’s eye’. ‘Well I never’, I declared to myself aloud (I’m going to have to work on this lockdown habit of talking to myself, before I get dragged back to the office), ‘there’s actually a word for this minor but probably pretty common eye-related mishap!’. This led me onto two trains of thought. The first was to excitedly assume that there must therefore be all sorts of other obscure eye-related words out there; and the second was to consider the etymology of ‘orbisculate’ (a somewhat safer habit I’ve acquired during lockdown, although only when doing so silently).
So I started hunting online for other interesting eye-related words. Much to my disappointment, I couldn’t find any. Or at least, no obscure ones such as ‘orbisculate’. Then I started thinking about the etymology issue. ‘Orb’ seemed pretty obvious to me, meaning a spherical object or shape, which I decided must refer to both the eyeball and the grapefruit. I already knew from the Moorfields A&E doctor who confirmed my first operculated retinal tear last year that the word, ‘operculated’ comes from the Latin ‘operculum’, meaning a lid or cover. (Have a read of my post, ‘An operculated tear? What’s that?’.) I therefore mused that maybe the ‘culate’ bit was to do with the grapefruit juice literally covering the orb of the eye. And then all I had left was ‘is’. I decided that if I added the ‘b’ from ‘orb’, making it ‘bis’, this could make sense because ‘bis’ means twice – so grapefruit plus eyeball equals two orbs. It all made perfect sense at the time (to me, at least).
I then headed to Google to check my workings, and was stunned and somewhat disappointed to learn that… [lowers voice and imparts incredulously]… ‘orbisculate’ isn’t actually a recognised word at all! After further reading, I discovered that the word was invented by a chap in the US, named Neil Krieger. He proceeded to use it in his daily life, and it wasn’t until years later that his daughter discovered (as part of a bet, which she subsequently lost) that – to her horror – it wasn’t actually in the dictionary, and her father admitted that he’d actually made it up. The full story is well worth a read, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/03/10/orbisculate-dictionary-krieger-covid/. I went on to read that Neil Krieger sadly died of Covid-19 complications in April 2020, and his family are now engaged in a fun campaign to increase usage of the word ‘orbisculate’ in order to get it into the dictionary as a tribute to him. You can read more about their highly entertaining and original efforts, at: https://www.orbisculate.com/.
So, as an eye-related word (although I know that RD patients will be far more careful than people with healthy peepers to avoid orbisculation at all costs), I think we should embrace ‘orbisculate’ and use it whenever possible. Apparently, it’s also permissible to use it in relation to other fruits and vegetables. Personally, I experience orbisculation with tomatoes more than anything else although fortunately, due to wearing glasses, it doesn’t tend to end up in my eye.
As I couldn’t find any other obscure and interesting words related to eyes, I thought perhaps we should follow Neil Krieger’s lead, and simply make up our own. For example, there really should be a specific word to describe that almost overwhelming sense of fear mixed with desperate clinging onto hope which we feel when undergoing a slit-lamp examination. My eye buddies will know exactly what I’m talking about here. Or the feeling of relief yet slight queasiness and off-kilter depth perception when we’re finally permitted to remain upright for more than just ten minutes at a time, after a period of posturing following eye surgery. We definitely need a specific word for the effort of trying to get an eye drop in and continually missing… how about ‘plopt’ for that? Like ‘plopped’, but adding an optical component to indicate that the ‘plop’ refers specifically to an eye drop – a mixture of ‘plop’, ‘drop’, and ‘optic’. And as for the pre-appointment paranoia which I know many of us feel in the few weeks leading up to a hospital appointment, how about ‘propthalnoia’?
If you have any ideas of words for these specific things, or other eye-related issues which would benefit from having a specific word, please let me know. In the meantime, I challenge you to see how many times you can legitimately use the word ‘orbisculate’ in the next week or so… and please let me know how you get on!