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A.Word.A.Day--iris

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

Guest wordsmith Vincent de Luise, MD (eyemusic73ATaol.com) writes:

The field of ophthalmology has burgeoned over the last decade. New treatments for such blinding eye diseases as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, and diabetic eye disease have improved the vision of millions of people around the world. The term "miracle of sight" is something that I, as an eye surgeon, am privileged to hear every week, from successful cataract and LASIK eye surgery patients.

This week, we will explore words associated with the eye and vision. Interestingly, these words also have non-scientific definitions, which underscores the fact that ophthalmology, which is obviously such a visual science, often borrows words from observations in the real world and associates them with the myriad eye conditions that exist.

[This week's guest wordsmith Dr. Vincent de Luise is an ophthalmologist who specializes in cataract and corneal surgery. He practices and lives in Connecticut, and is on the clinical faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine. As a lifelong spelling bee participant, scrabbler, and cruciverbalist, Dr de Luise has long been fascinated by words and sight.]

iris (EYE-ris) noun, plural irises, irides

1. The pigmented tissue of the eye in the center of which is the opening called the pupil.

2. A rainbow.

3. A showy, flowering plant.

[From Latin iris, from Greek Iris/iris (the goddess of the rainbow, rainbow).]

See more usage examples of iris in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

The iris of the eye has been admired and studied for millennia. The Egyptians memorialized beautiful irides in their sculpture, especially pharaohs and queens. Of note is the bust of the 18th dynasty Queen Nefertiti, whose magnificent right lapis lazuli iris insert is still in its eye socket, (though, curiously, her left lapis lazuli insert is missing).

There is an alternative medical practice called iridology which purports to identify health and illness from an analysis of the spots on the iris, through the creation of iris charts and iris maps. Peer-review literature does not support its accuracy. The iris constricts with light and dilates in darkness.

All of us have hazel or bluish irides at birth. Our final, genetically determined eye color, be it hazel, blue, or brown, will usually declare itself by the end of the first year of life. Other words with the same etymology as iris include iridescent and iridium.

"In the meantime, banks are considering using iris scans and even palm scans at ATMs in an effort to cut down on fraud." Jonathan Curiel; The Last Days of Privacy; San Francisco Chronicle; Jun 25, 2006.

X-Bonus

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. -Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect, and author (1743-1826)

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