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A.Word.A.Day--cataract

Pronunciation Sound Clip RealAudio

This week's theme: words related to the eyes.

cataract (KAT-uh-rakt) noun

1. A clouding of the naturally occurring crystalline lens.

2. A waterfall.

[From Latin cataracta (waterfall, portcullis), from Greek katarahaktes (downpour), from Greek katarassein (down rush), from Greek kata (down) + arassein (to strike). The medical term cataract stems from the sense of portcullis which is a falling gate or covering.]

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

The whitish appearance of onrushing water, cascading down a waterfall, is exactly what a dense cataract looks like through the pupil -- it can be a whitish, sometimes vertically streaked density. The cataract itself, in medical terms, is a clouding of the normally clear crystalline lens.

In the 1500s, the term cataract began to be applied to the whitish clouding of dense clouding of the crystalline lens. The lens, along with the cornea, focuses light rays onto the retina, which is how we see. As a cataract develops, our vision progressively blurs and objects become duskier and browner (brunescent) because blue and violet rays are preferentially absorbed by the cataractous lens, leaving largely the murkier reds and browns to pass through.

The last works of the French impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926), especially his Japanese footbridge paintings and the "House from the Rose Garden" series painted at his home at Giverny, show this brunescent change over time. Monet's right cataract was removed in January, 1923, and works painted after this time show a return of the blues and violets to his artistic palette. In fact, his magisterial "Waterlilies" series of 22 murals (Les Nympheas), finally completed right before his death in 1926 and now spectacularly viewable in the refurbished Orangerie in Paris, show the subtle blues and greens of the lily pads on the ponds.

The other definition of cataract is waterfall. The six large waterfalls of the Nile river are usually called the cataracts of the Nile, near one of which was built the Aswan Dam.

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

"The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep."
William Wordsworth; Ode: Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood; 1802.

X-Bonus

Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true. -Robert Brault, software developer, writer (1938- )

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