|A depiction of how a cataract may affect someone's sight|
(photo by Clare Louise Thomas, courtesy of ORBIS)
Noun & verb. Late Middle English.
[Latin cataracta waterfall, floodgate, portcullis, from Greek kataractes, -rrh- down-rushing (water etc.),
probably from katarassein formed as CATA- + arassein strike, smash. In sense 2 apparent figurative use of sense 'portcullis'.]
A1(a) noun. obsolete. In plural. Floodgates, specifically of heaven (Genesis 7:11, 8:2). LME-L17
A1(b) noun. transferred. A waterspout. M16-M17
A2 noun. MEDICINE. (A condition of) partial or complete opacity of the lens of the eye. LME
A3 noun. A waterfall, specifically a large and sheer one; a torrent. L16
A4 noun. obsolete. A portcullis; the grating of a window. rare. M17-M19
B1 verb trans. Pour in a torrent. rare. L18
B2 verb intrans. Fall in or like a cataract. M19
cataractal adj. of the nature of a cataract. L19
cataractic obs. adj. (rare) cataractal. L17-E19
cataractous adj. of or affected by cataract of the eye. E19
Cataract arrived in English via the Greek for 'waterfall', was adopted into Latin to also mean 'portcullis', which was then figuratively applied to the ubiquitous eye condition; few etymologies in the English language convey with such poignancy the human story behind a word. For the approximately 20 million people that suffer from cataracts worldwide, their sight can become just like straining to look through a static sheet of water, or oil smeared on a pane of glass. Causing 51% of the world's blindness and disproportionately hitting developing countries due to limited access to eye care, cataracts become like a portcullis in not only being a physical barrier to good sight, but a social barrier that limits opportunities in work, education and mobility.
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