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11. Eyes & eyesight

11. Eyes & eyesight

By Alena Lien, 

24 September 2018


Hi! How're you? Welcome to the Along Came English Podcast. You're listening to Alena.

So for this episode, I thought I would talk about eyes and eyesight.

I actually wear spectacles or "glasses" - as I normally call it, and have been since I was a kid. I've tried wearing contact lenses at one point, but I guess I never got into the routine. And now glasses are kind of a permanent feature of my face, to the point where I feel a bit weird when I don't have them on.

So I got a new pair recently about a month ago, and I guess it makes sense to talk about eyesight and glasses. A lot of people wear them and it's not really a topic in English textbooks.

So yea, this episode's going to be heavy on vocabulary, partly because I want to cover the basics and also because I'm not sure how many stories I actually have about eyes. But I'll try to insert some stories as I usually do.

So hopefully you pick up some new vocabulary and phrases from today. I'll be posting the vocabulary list on the website so don't forget to check that out. I usually post them together, so you can even check it now if you're not doing something else like driving. But yea, please don't check out my website while you're driving, you can do that afterwards.

Vocabulary about eyes

Okay, let's start with some vocabulary. Some of these terms might get quite technical, so I'll try to keep it as simple as what you would expect of any native speaker, who has studied some biology. Yea.

So "eyes" are really organs of the visual system. They're a part of the visual system because they receive light and then the brain processes it, interprets it.

"Eye" is singular. So someone might want to refer to the left or right eye for example.

"Eyes," as a word, is plural. And most people and animals have a pair of eyes.

"Eyeball" or "eyeballs" refers to the round balls, for a lack of a better description, that sit in the sockets of your skull. So usually they are used interchangeably with "eyes" but saying "eye" or "eyes" are more common.

"Eyelids" are folds of skin that cover the eyes. So you have the upper and lower eyelids.

"Eyelash" or "eyelashes" are the hairs on the edge of your eyelids.

And "eyebrows" are the hairs growing above your eyes.

Eye makeup

So if you're curious about the relevant vocabulary for eye makeup, here are some general ones.

So the upper eyelid is where you usually apply "eyeshadow."

Eyelashes are curled with an "eyelash curler," and then "mascara" applied to make it look thick and hold its curl.

An "eyeliner" is used to draw a line round the eyes, so usually where your eyelashes grow from.

And then eyebrows are usually drawn with an "eyebrow pencil," but you can also use "eyebrow powder."

And there are other things like "concealer" to cover any dark circles under the eyes or blemishes around the eye.

An "eye primer" is used to extend the wear of the eyeshadow and other makeup applied to the eyes.

There are actually words that describe the shape of your eyes. So most people would just describe eyes as either "big" or "small" and then refer to their eye colour or something. Now I won't go into the details of the different eye shapes, but people who use makeup would usually apply it according to their eye shape.

Double eyelids and monolids

Culturally, in the Chinese-ethnic community, there is a lot of awareness of eyes, eye shape, how big is it, whether you have "double eyelids" or "monolids" - which are terms for different types of eyelids.

So "monolid" just means that the eyelids have no crease, which is more common in certain Asian groups of Chinese, or Korean descent.

"Double eyelids" refers to each eyelid with a crease, which are more common for those of Caucasian descent.

Sometimes people have one of each, which can make their eyes asymmetrical because one looks bigger than the other to varying degrees.

Now, having big eyes with double eyelids is a pretty significant beauty standard in my ethnic community. And this might sound a bit strange if you've never heard of it before, but it is a pretty big deal.

And I have heard of some people who refuse to date another person who does not have double eyelids, because it is undesirable - considered unattractive.

And you can get surgery to have double eyelids. And if I'm not mistaken, this procedure is probably one of the most popular, if not the most popular cosmetic procedure in Asia.

Personally, I have small eyes with monolids, which is not a... not a big problem. My parents or relatives did not give me much grief about it, thankfully, when I was growing up. And I think also this beauty standard is not particularly upheld or enforced maybe in my part of the world as much as some other countries or communities.

But that is not to say I haven't considered surgery. I use makeup and a lot of makeup tutorials are not catered for my eye shape. And although I'm pretty comfortable with them at the moment and I have a particular way of doing my makeup, I still have the impression that eye makeup still looks better on eyes with double eyelids. And there is a certain look that I like but cannot achieve with what I have.

I say all this, but this isn't a problem that keeps me up at night and I don't feel that strongly about it. But yea, I have... the truth is I have thought about it.

Now surgery aside, there are a few points I want to make for you to be aware of. So there are some English terms that are used to describe the kind of eyes that I have that might be considered offensive and, you know, conjures up negative emotions.

And in general, it's best to avoid telling someone else that they have small eyes. And I say this because saying this to a person of Chinese descent who has small eyes is like calling a person who is actually fat, fat.

So yea. So yes, it might be a correct adjective. It may be, to an extent, an accurate description, but the term is associated with a lot of negative emotions as a beauty standard.

Now, I can refer to myself as having small eyes, or I can say that I'm fat in a self-deprecating way - not that I think I am. But it's not really your right to join me on it. And that's part of the politeness of speaking English. Yea.

There are other terms that are negative like "slanted eyes," and referring to small eyes as "slits." There are mixed opinions over how offensive they really are and it probably has to do... a lot more to do with the individual's upbringing as such, but they do have racist stereotyping undertones. So best to avoid them.

All right, moving along.

More about eyes and eye colour

"Pupils" are the centre of your eyes that are black, which are what controls the amount of light that enters the eye. So "constriction" of the pupils means limiting the amount of light that gets in, when it's bright. "Dilation" means allowing more light in, particularly when it's dark.

So you might see in medical shows where a doctor shines a light into a person's eye, and that's to check if there's any nerve damage from trauma or injury, or if an unconscious patient is brain dead.

"Iris" or "irises" are what gives you eye colour.

The "cornea" is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil.

"Eye colour," even though we say eye colour, we're not really referring to the eyeball as a particular colour, it actually refers to the pigmentation or the colour of the iris in the eye. And usually people will say, "I have brown eyes," not "I have brown irises."

Now, there are a variety of different eye colours. As someone who is of Chinese descent, I have dark brown eyes. People who are of Caucasian descent might have a variety of eye colours.

So we have "blue," "green," "grey," "hazel" - it's kind of multi-coloured, it can shift from blue to brown to green.

And with these eye colours, you get a variety of shades and lighting and makeup can affect this. Apparently there's this famous Hollywood star, Elizabeth Taylor, who had violet eyes, but it's also possible makeup and lighting brought out this colour out more often.

And you can also meet people where each eye has a different eye colour. I knew someone in primary school who had 1 green and 1 blue when I first met him. And as he was... as he got older, one eye gradually changed from I think it was green to blue. So it was weird at one point, half of his iris was green, and the other half was blue.

Apparently eye colour can naturally change during childhood, and with age.

Other colours... other eye colours.

"Amber," is actually a solid colour, and apparently it has an orange or gold tint. I'm not sure if you get the same variety of shades as the previous eye colours. Personally I don't know if I've met anyone with amber eyes.

And finally, there's also "red." And this is more to do with the amount of light that gets into your eyes. So red coloured eyes can sometimes happen in photographs, but it's more obvious with people with albinism.

As a side note, "albinism" is a condition where a person can produce... sorry where a person cannot produce melanin, which is what gives you skin colour and eye colour. And people with this condition have very pale skin, they have white hair, they have very light-coloured eyes. And having this condition also means being at risk of sunburn and skin cancer, and also problems with eyesight.

And they're often... people with this condition are often referred to as "albino."

Now interestingly, you can see this in animals as well. And if I remember correctly, I've seen an albino tiger or alligator online somewhere.

Now you can actually change your eye colour with coloured "contact lenses." Usually we say "contacts" for short, and these are thin plastic lenses that you can place on the surface of your eye to change the eye colour.

I remember I went to a makeup store in Bangkok several years ago, and they had shelves of coloured contact lenses, with a variety of colours, and even fun ones with pictures. And there're also contacts that you can get that enlarges your irises so that it gives a more doll-eyed look. There are even tutorial videos on YouTube on how to transform into a doll with makeup, wigs, contact lenses.

As I've mentioned in previous episodes, I have watched a fair amount of YouTube videos about plastic surgery. Yea, it's like a strange kind of open confession.

Anyway, there's this controversial cosmetic "iris implant surgery" where you can permanently change the colour of your eyes. And there are pretty serious risks involved which can lead to blindness and there have been a few stories about people who have suffered complications afterwards. But apparently it is becoming popular and a lot of people are going to countries where they offer this surgery to get them done.

Now back to eyes.

Each eye has a "lens" as well, just behind the iris and pupil. There is a transparent, flexible tissue that changes shape to focus light and images onto your retina.

And the "retina" is a layer of tissue that lines the back of the inside of the eye. It receives light and it sends visual information to the brain through the optic nerve.

And the "optic nerve" is the nerve that transmits visual information from your eye to your brain.


All right, well let's move onto eyesight.

"Eyesight" refers to one's ability to see. And people would refer to eyesight as good or bad to indicate if they can see clearly or not. And sometimes people would say their eyes are good or bad, but they're actually really referring to their eyesight.

Synonyms for eyesight are "sight" and "vision."

"Sight," in addition to the ability to see, also has a few other meanings. It can refer to the action or fact of seeing someone or something. So for example, "I can't stand the sight of blood."

It can refer to the area within which a person can see or something can be seen. Quite often you might hear this in a computer game like, "The target is in sight."

It can also refer to places of interests for tourist - so the term "sightseeing" comes to mind. For example, "I would like to see some of the local sights."

And as you can tell, you know, the context of the sentences help to indicate which meaning the speaker is referring to. So usually saying "eyesight" is more specific and clearer to the listener.

"Vision" also has a few other meanings. It can refer to thinking about or planning the future with wisdom and imagination.

So usually you would hear influential people talking about the vision for their company or society. You can think of Apple's Steve Jobs for example.

"Vision" can also refer to a dream, kind of like a hallucination, even a spiritual or supernatural experience. For example, "He came to me in a dream."

Again, context is important.

Talking about eyesight, you can have perfect eyesight, which is commonly known as "20/20 vision." And this is actually an American term to mean that you can see the same amount of detail at 20 feet as the average person who doesn't need corrective lenses.

In Australia, we use metres, so it's 6/6 instead, but 20/20 vision is a well-known, colloquial term.

Vision problems

And we can talk vision problems. Common ones are...

"Long-sightedness," which means a person has trouble seeing objects close up, but can see things clearly further away.

"Short-sightedness" is a condition to mean a person has trouble seeing objects at a distance, but can see things clearly up-close.

This is something that I have - I'm short-sighted and my eyesight is bad enough that I can't drive without prescription glasses. Also my left-eye is worse than my right eye.

Eye care professionals

I have prescription glasses that were prescribed by an optometrist. So let's start with some of the professions related to eyes.

An "optometrist" is someone who measures eyesight. They prescribe corrective lenses like glasses and contact lenses if your eyesight is bad, and detect eye disease. They usually work in a retail shop that specialises in selling eyewear and they work quite closely with another related profession, which is the optician.

An "optician," also known as a "dispensing optician." So if you go into an eyewear retail store or an optometrist shop, usually the optician is the first person you will encounter and the last person you talk to if you bought something. So generally what they do is help you with getting your glasses or contact lenses. And they also help conduct part of the eye test.

Now usually, I get my eyes checked every 2 years. And there are a few things I have to do. I don't know what all the specific tests are called, I just know they're a part of the eye test.

So I get my eyes checked on a machine with the optician, which I'm not exactly sure what it checks. But at one point, it blows a puff of air into each eye, which is really uncomfortable.

And after that, I go into the optometrist's room and he or she will do some tests like measure my ability to identify letters, numbers or symbols on an eye chart, usually one eye at a time. And they also check the inside of my eyes by shining a light into my eyes. At one point, they also take a photograph to check my optic nerve.

So recently I also had to do something called a "visual field test," which is a test to check the scope or size of my vision - which I did with an optician. Now this checks my central and peripheral vision. And "peripheral vision" is what you can see on the side when you're looking straight ahead and any peripheral vision loss can be a sign of eye problems.

What happens during the test is that you have 1 eye starring straight at an orange light, and then you're supposed to press a button every time you see a small light that appears in your peripheral vision.

And when I did it the first time, I didn't do very well at all. The machine made a lot of noise, and because I was short-sighted, I couldn't see the small light very clearly. It was blurry and I was distracted by the noise. And the whole thing was very messy and very uncomfortable. Like I think I actually started to sweat a little bit during this test.

So I had to take it again for... after a few weeks. And yea, thankfully the second time was much better.

So yea, I also got a prescription for contact lenses several years ago, and I had to do a test for that too - to see if I was suitable to wear them and if they were comfortable for me.

So yea, so these tests, they sound pretty comprehensive, I mean, rightfully so, but they don't actually take that long thankfully.

Now the next profession, related to eyes, is an "ophthalmologist." Yup. Honestly speaking, pronouncing this word is just as challenging as it sounds. Ophthalmologist. Okay.

This is a specialist in medical and surgery... sorry, surgical eye disease. So you wouldn't normally find them at an eyewear shop - usually at a hospital or a clinic that specialises in eye care. So although an optometrist checks the health of a person's eyes, complicated or more serious cases will be referred to an ophthalmologist. And any eye surgeries are performed by them too.

More vision problems

Thankfully, I haven't needed to see an ophthalmologist, but I know a few friends who have glaucoma who have had to.

"Glaucoma" is an interesting word to pronounce. It's spelled G-L-A-U-C-O-M-A. And you can pronounce it either glo-co-ma or glaw-co-ma. So the "AU" vowel pair produces a different sound, I think, between British and American accents. And then the "GL" consonant pair can be a bit difficult for some non-native speakers.

So "glaucoma" is a condition where the optic nerve is damaged due to high eye pressure. And this can affect vision and if unchecked, can lead to blindness. So there's no cure at the moment, but if detected and treated early can prevent blindness. Treatments include eye drops, medication and surgery.

Another common eye problem is "cataract." "Cataract" or "cataracts" is the clouding of the lens in the eye, leading to a decrease in vision and blindness. So when the cataract gets worse and affects a person's usual activities, surgery is the usual treatment.

Now there is an international charity organisation called Fred Hollows Foundation that is named after a famous Australian-New Zealand ophthalmologist. And a lot of what they do is to restore sight to people who have conditions that are treatable like cataracts. And they also build eye clinics and train surgeons to be able to perform eye surgeries.

Vision correction

As I mentioned earlier, I have "prescription glasses." And these are also called "spectacles" or "eyeglasses," but calling them "glasses" is pretty common these days. And they were prescribed by an optometrist for the purpose of correcting my short-sightedness.

Now glasses consist of the "frame," usually made of either metal or plastic that sits on the nose and over the ears. And then you have the "lenses" that correct any eyesight problems you might have.

And usually when you're shopping for a new pair of glasses, there are displays where you can try the frames in front of a mirror and when you choose a frame, you bring it to the optician and then she will arrange to get the lenses done for you.

Now I don't really change glasses that regularly. I guess for most people, they might get a new one when their eyes... to get their eyes checked, which is about every 2 years. So the old pair I had, I probably had it for about 3-4 years.

I remember when I started wearing glasses, the small square frames used to be considered kind of cool. And as I got older, it seems that glasses that are bigger and rounder are becoming more fashionable.

So I don't keep my old glasses, but I definitely haven't... and I definitely haven't collected them over the years, but I'm sure the frames got bigger and bigger as I got older. And this new one is my biggest frame yet.

And as I mentioned earlier, I got prescription for contacts, but I don't wear it much at all. Now I might wear it for parties and weddings, but even then, that's quite rare nowadays. These days I'd rather be comfortable with glasses than bother with contacts.

So when I was younger, I did use it quite regularly at one point but it kind of fizzled out eventually or gradually ended. And it works out to be more expensive than wearing glasses, so I guess my frugal nature got the better of me as well.

So I had this unfortunate incident - and this happened many years ago, I was cooking one time and I had chopped some fresh chillies for dinner. Afterward when I tried to remove one of my contacts, my eye starting burning because I had chopped the chillies with my bare hands. Yea. I was in agony for several minutes.

Now another method of vision correction is "laser eye surgery." This is also performed by an ophthalmologist. And apparently they use a laser to reshape the cornea.

And this is a long-lasting alternative to wearing glasses or contacts and is an option for people who have really bad eyesight. But of course, you know, with any kind of surgery, there are risks involved.

Common expressions with "eyes"

So now, I'm going to share some common phrases and expressions related to eyes. And there are many, I mean many phrases related to eyes. So I won't be able to cover all of them here. These are just some selected ones.

So "bird's eye view" just means a general view from above.

A "private eye" is a slang term for a private detective or investigator. And you might have heard of this in detective films.

"To keep an eye on someone or something" just means to watch someone or something. So this might be your bag or a child if you're going to the toilet or pay the bill. "Can you keep an eye on my bag?" for example.

"To look up" literally means to look up, but as a phrasal verb it has a few different meanings.

So it usually means to find information usually in a book or a computer. So for example, "I looked up what 'autonomy' meant in the dictionary."

It can mean to say that a situation is improving or developing. For example, "Things are finally looking up for him."

A very similar phrase, "to look up to someone" means to have a lot of respect or admiration for someone. "He really looked up to his father," - for example.

The opposite of that, "to look down on someone" - notice the different preposition - means to think you're better or more important than someone. So for example, "She looked down on most of her colleagues."

"To lose your sight" means to gradually go blind.

But "to lose sight of" is a phrase that has 2 meanings.

To forget the main aim or important fact, or to lose focus of the goal. So for example, "He lost sight of his original goals."

To no longer be able to see someone or something. So maybe a person saw a familiar person on the street but, "He lost sight of her when he turned around the corner."

There's an expression, "shut-eye," which is an informal word to mean sleep. Sometimes you might hear people say, "I'm going to get some shut-eye."

"Bull's-eye" is a pretty well-known term to refer to the centre of a target, so you can think of darts, or archery, maybe shooting.

And the phrase "to hit or to score a bull's eye" is usually informal, to refer to achieving a target. So I don't use this myself, and personally I don't hear this being used a lot nowadays. I think it's a little bit old but it's still pretty well known.

Old-fashioned phrases

A few other common phrases that I think are a bit dated or old-fashioned. Well, I think so.

"Apple of someone's eye" refers to someone that is... or something actually, that is highly cherished above all others. So for example, "She's the apple of her father's eye." But look, you know, I haven't heard this being used for a while.

"The eyes are the windows of the soul" just really means to say that, you know, the eyes tell you a person's inner world, what their feelings and thoughts are. Again, very common expression, but I also personally think this is a bit cheesy. And it just sounds like a line from a romantic comedy. So yea.

"Bedroom eyes" means a suggestive, seductive look or facial expression. There's a song called "Bedroom eyes" by an Australian singer called Kate Ceberano. But this was from 1989. So yea, please don't use this phrase.

Well, I think that's all for now. I hope you found this interesting. I'll be posting the vocabulary list on my website, as well as links to any references I make on this episode.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, Facebook as well. And checkout my YouTube channel for bitesize english tips.

All right. Well, thank you so much again. Have a good day and I'll catch you later! Bye!