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Pausodonoptic - The Growlery
In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni
forthright
forthright
Pausodonoptic
A correspondent to the Phrontistery yesterday posed a very interesting riddle:

I was in a pub the other day and saw a barometer on the wall. It was old and has the word pausodonoptic on it. I had never heard of this before and was curious so I did a bit of searching online. I didn't really find any definition of the word anywhere. I was disappointed that I couldn't find it on your site either. Have you any idea what it means? I shall look forward to hearing back from you.


I get plenty of these from my dutiful readers, and most of them are easily handled, but this one is a real puzzle: pausodonoptic is not in any of the usual online dictionaries, nor is it in the OED. The correspondent sent a photo of the object, so the spelling is correct. While there are a couple dozen websites that use the word, applied to various items (spectacles, barometers, cameras), but none that give a real sense of what it is supposed to mean. So, a mystery - but one that I was eventually able to solve (I think). My response:

You're quite right that 'pausodonoptic' is not used in context anywhere on the web, and indeed, nothing like it is found in the mammoth Oxford English Dictionary. This suggests that it is a coinage used by a manufacturer for the purposes of advertising some feature of the device. Now, 'pausodontic' looks as if it must be Greek-derived, so I turned to the Liddell and Scott classical Greek lexicon. There I looked for words starting with 'pauso-' and found pausodunos 'soothing pain'. This could then combine (a little improperly, and changing the final 'u' to 'o'), with -optic to mean something like 'soothing pain of the eyes', or in other words, relieving eye strain or pain. I was still a little confused, because this doesn't seem to be a suitable characteristic for a barometer. However, looking at the range of products called 'pausodonoptic' using a Google search, I note that there is a pausodonoptic camera and pausodonoptic spectacles. One advertisement from 1890 even says "You will act with discretion if you buy the New Pausodonoptic Spectacles or Eye-Glasses, (convex or concave), so comfortable and cooling to the eyes. They will enable you to read or sew, especially at night, with positive pleasure when others fail." The photo you sent afterwards, with the maker indicated as an optician, confirms this idea. My guess, then, is that the glass used in the barometer must be somehow specially treated in the same way, perhaps to reduce glare. Whether any of the buyers could figure out, or cared about, the Greek-derived coinage is unknown, but manufacturers both then and now often give scientific-sounding names to their products to enhance the sense that they must be effective.


So, what do you think of my explanation? Anyone have any alternate suggestions?

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Comments
ladyiolanthe From: ladyiolanthe Date: September 10th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Sounds logical to me!
wordweaverlynn From: wordweaverlynn Date: September 10th, 2012 09:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you have the wrong snake by the tail.

Pausodonoptic instruments were made from the fossilized corneas of a particularly slow-moving dinosaur called the Pausodon. Scientists theorize that the corneas gave such vivid and intense images that the dinosaur kept stopping in wonder at the glory of the world. The last Pausodon became extinct on a sunny afternoon 65.5 million years ago, when he stopped to admire his reflection in a lake without noticing that he was being followed by a T. Rex. His last words were believed to be, "Oh, wow, look at my iridescent purple feathers."
pauamma From: pauamma Date: September 10th, 2012 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
That comment is a sight for sore eyes.
pauamma From: pauamma Date: September 10th, 2012 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I spent a few minutes scratching my head and wondering how you got that from "pausodontic" (gap-toothed?), until I noticed what was probably the intended spelling elsewhere in your entry. :-)
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 11th, 2012 03:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I was thinking along the same lines before I read your explanation -- that spectacles, barometers, and cameras all have glass pieces, so 'pausodonoptic' must refer to the glass in some way.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 22nd, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

Pausodonoptic

I'm curious if the lettering on the barometer was larger than normal or if the glass-facing magnified (just slightly) the numbers on the barometer to make it easier for, say, an older person to keep track of the readings.

Just wondering...
forthright From: forthright Date: September 22nd, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Pausodonoptic

The lettering is large (not sure what counts as 'larger than normal' but the numbers on the dial are actually fairly small, so I'm not sure about that. Could be, though.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 20th, 2012 08:41 am (UTC) (Link)

pausodonoptic

actually..i get to feel smart for once...the word it-self has no meaning ..but it was a word coined in the mid 1800's in England by a magnifying glass makers company...it refers to the magnifying properties of the glass...i was given this information by my grandmother"Glorias P. Handley" born and raised in liverpool england...and my late grandfather was a glass maker...
From: davidreddington Date: November 18th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

simples!

Let us break down the word into its components.
pause - hesitate, linger, dally
ode - a lyrical verse (the e was dropped in in 1804 to save ink)
on - above, over, as opposed to off
op - an operation, a routine
tic - a small insect

Now put them together and you get:-
a word meaning pertaining to those who are not confident about public speaking (especially poetry)when in the middle of dissecting a small insect
and let's be honest, how many of us would not be?
Now why should this be associated with ocular instruments and in particular, the barometer?
Well this is because when the atmospheric pressure falls below 24 inches of mercury, people reciting ode to a nightingale whilst cutting in to a tic with a sharp scalpel, need to be very careful that they do not cut themselves. They tend to use magnifying glasses to help them see what they are doing, and they need to keep a lookout for the plunging air pressure brought about by releasing the tic's internal gasses.
So naturally, this specialised group of people would be very interested in devices claiming pausodonoptic properties, to assist them in their work.
QED
David Reddington
Professor of illogicality
Eltham
London
England
November 2012
From: davidreddington Date: November 18th, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

pausodonoptic - it is so simple really.

Let us break down the word into its components.
pause - hesitate, linger, dally
ode - a lyrical verse (the e was dropped in in 1804 to save ink)
on - above, over, as opposed to off
op - an operation, a routine
tic - a small insect

Now put them together and you get:-
a word meaning pertaining to those who are not confident about public speaking (especially poetry)when in the middle of dissecting a small insect
and let's be honest, how many of us would not be?
Now why should this be associated with ocular instruments and in particular, the barometer?
Well this is because when the atmospheric pressure falls below 24 inches of mercury, people reciting ode to a nightingale whilst cutting in to a tic with a sharp scalpel, need to be very careful that they do not cut themselves. They tend to use magnifying glasses to help them see what they are doing, and they need to keep a lookout for the plunging air pressure brought about by releasing the tic's internal gasses.
So naturally, this specialised group of people would be very interested in devices claiming pausodonoptic properties, to assist them in their work.
QED
David Reddington
Professor of illogicality
Eltham
London
England
November 2012
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