It's the last morning of my (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation—off to the airport in less than two hours. But Will W just pre-wrote for me most of a blog post, so I'm going to take advantage and get another post up before I land back in work reality.

Here's what Will wrote:

Struggling to see the screen, holding my iPad at arm's length, I looked up 'long sighted' on Wikipedia, and it unexpectedly delivered me to 'far-sightedness'.

Further consults with Dr Google, ignoring variations in spelling or hyphenation, suggested a national tendency to interpret the phrases metaphorically or literally.
And then he put his findings into a table, with ?? in some boxes. I've taken the ??s out and filled in the terms and meanings he didn't know (and made a few other editing changes for my own happiness). I've also added the OED's date of first citation for each of them, so you can see how they relate to one another

British English American English
long-sighted • hyperopic (holds reading matter far away) [1737: not its first meaning] ——
far-sighted anticipates future events correctly [1641] • anticipates future events correctly
• hyperopic [1878]
short-sighted • lacking foresight [1622]
• myopic (has to hold reading matter close) [1641]
lacking foresight
near-sighted —— myopic [1686]
As it happens, it's the 2nd anniversary
of me getting these glasses

Some things to note about these:
  • The more 'figurative' sense of looking into the future precedes the physiological sense in all cases where both exist.
  • All of these terms were invented in Britain. If you do hear long-sighted in AmE it will probably be figurative. But it just doesn't turn up much.
  • The 'hyperopic' sense of far-sighted might have originated in US, but OED does not provide much info about it, as the entry has not been fully updated since 1895. Their only citation for it is from the Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, which at that point was published in Edinburgh. In 1895, the OED's coverage of Americanisms was not what it is today.
  • Will had listed the terms in the table without hyphens. I had to put the hyphens in, because I'm that kind of person. Oxford Dictionaries like the hyphens, Merriam-Webster writes them as one word, no hyphen, e.g. nearsighted.
  • Hyperopia seems to be the more common opposite for myopia today, but in the UK (less so in the US) you also find hypermetropia. The two words have been in competition since the mid-1800s.
If you have any of these conditions, you may need glasses. If you're American, you'll sometimes call them eyeglasses, and if you're British, you may sometimes call them specs (or less often/more old-fashionedly) spectacles. What you call the people from whom and places where you get glasses is a matter for a separate blog post—but at this point I really need to get dressed to go to the airport!

Will also asked about AmE seeing eye dog. In the UK, these are known as guide dogs for the blind. Guide dog is understandable in AmE as well.


  1. There's an American joke I found odd - a blind man walks into a shop, grabs his dog by the tail and whirls it round. Q. What do you think you are doing? A. Just having a look around.
    Hadn't heard of seeing-eye dogs at that time.

    1. i was told that joke once and just thought it was not very funny. I suppose it might have registered a few notches higher on the funny-meter if that was the term I was used to. Possibly. I think the term used in the telling was "guide dog". I've never heard the term "seeing eye dog" here in Britain.

  2. The Seeing Eye is a specific organisation, the first to train guide dogs in the US (based on the founders' experiences with guide dogs in Germany). Hence the common US term "seeing-eye dog".

  3. The Seeing Eye is the trademarked name of a U.S. guide dog school, the first or one of the first. The school claims that only their graduates should be called seeing-eye dogs, but of course nobody pays any attention to this. Still, it's not surprising that the term wouldn't spread across the Atlantic.

  4. Bring speaker late 60s. I've never heard anyone use either hyperopic or hypermetropia, the word linked to it in the dictionary. Normal usage all my life has been,

    long-sighted - not being able to see things close to; needing spectacles for reading.

    short-sighted - (a) not being able to see things at a distance; needing spectacles for day to day use, seeing blackboard in a classroom, driving etc. (b) Figuratively not able or bothered to predict how things will turn out; doing only what appears immediately obvious irrespective of likely long term consequences.

    far-sighted - having foresight, being able to predict how things will turn out.

    myopic - may well be used by opticians to mean short sighted in normal sense a, but only generally used by ordinary people with sense b., to rack up, by using a more arcane word, the sense that one is criticising a person who is blind to anything that is not immediate and short term.

    1. I use exactly the same definitions as you, Dru.

      Um, didn't we have a similar conversation on this forum a few months ago?

    2. I use the same definitions. I am long-sighted myself. This has nothing to do with age - I've worn reading glasses since my early twenties.

      I first heard of myopia when I did O level biology, but rarely hear it because the general public don't use medical terms very often.

    3. And I use far-sighted and near-sighted just as consistently. I knew I had a problem when I had to hold the shampoo bottle between my feet to tell if it was conditioner or shampoo.(I like long-sighed and short-sighted, though! I'm surprised they never caught on here (even a little).

  5. Sorry, that should have started Br Eng, the curse of autocorrection

  6. A long time ago I trained as a biomedical scientist. The preferred term was definitely hypermetropia, and I was wondering what this weird hyperopia was that I was seeing as BrE. Nice to see that explained. My optician uses hypermetropia too, without prompting and without knowing my background. It might well be that the technical language always prefers hypermetropia.

  7. I've also heard "bins" as a term for glasses. A quick bit of research suggests it's from "binoculars".

    1. "bins" (when not used for receptacles for rubbish) is something I've heard among birdwatchers for binoculars, but the sort that are used for magnification, rather than glasses/specs.

      You'll sometimes see it written with a double-n when used in this sense (ie as "binns"), for the obvious reason of avoiding confusion with the sort you put your rubbish in.

      I've never heard it for glasses/spectacles.

    2. To be fair, I have only heard it two or three times in my life, so it's not common.

    3. I got my first pair of glasses in 1983 in North West England and they've been called "bins" more than a few times since then.

  8. The more 'figurative' sense of looking into the future precedes the physiological sense in all cases where both exist.

    Even within quotes, I'm not sure the label 'figurative' is justified.

    Sighted means 'able to see' i.e. 'not blind'. Keen sighted and sharp sights mean 'able to see in a keen/sharp manner'. No wonder that the earlier meanings of far sighted and short sighted are 'able to see far/short into the future'. The only mildly metaphorical trace is using adverbs normally associated with space to refer to time.

    It's easy to equate the eye condition of being short sighted with the non-prophetic sense. Far sighted has always struck me as less plausible as a non-technical clinical term because it bear no relation to ability. It doesn't convey the expected meaning of 'able to see further than other people'. I prefer to say — of myself or others — I have to wear reading glasses.

    1. Another way to look at it is that NOUN‑ed (in one of its senses) means 'possessing NOUN'.

      So sighted means 'possessing sight. Keen/sharp sighted mean 'possessing see/sharp sight'. The original meaning of short sighted was 'possessing short sight' — i.e. sight that falls short. And far sighted meant 'possessing sight that extends far'.

      I was going to cite a list of analogous compounds, starting with thick-skinned. But then I realised they were all based on physical parts of the body. Smelled and touched have other meanings — which are not conducive to *keen-smelled or *sensitive-touched. And nothing seems capable of making *hearinged a plausible word. The only good analogies i can think of are like-minded, open-minded etc.

    2. David Crosbie wrote:
      "It's easy to equate the eye condition of being short sighted with the non-prophetic sense. Far sighted has always struck me as less plausible as a non-technical clinical term because it bear no relation to ability. It doesn't convey the expected meaning of 'able to see further than other people'. I prefer to say — of myself or others — I have to wear reading glasses."

      I have to disagree. Normal vision should include both the ability to see far and near. Thus, saying you're near-sighted implies that you can't see far, and far-sighted implies you can't see near. In addition, short/long and near/far make, at least in AmE, good opposite pairs in a way that short/far and near/long don't. So the natural opposite of near-sighted is far-sighted.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. So the natural opposite of near-sighted is far-sighted.

      Yes, but I don't say near‑sighted. It isn't in my vocabulary. I wouldn't know what it meant if it hadn't been explained to me.

      I use only short‑sighted 'possessing sight which falls short'. This sense of short does not associate readily with long as its opposite. We don't say The arrow fell long or Happily, I'm long of money today. In another sense we can say This pastry is short but not That pastry is long . Even in the usual sense, the opposite of short people is tall people. (Though babies, I think, can be long.)

      As a further complication near is essentially a positive word, while far is sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Short when applied to eyesight, arrow‑shots and money is negative, while long is generally neutral.

      saying you're near-sighted implies that you can't see far

      That would seem to be what the speaker intends, but the implication fails utterly with me. Until told otherwise, I would understand near‑sighted to denote an enhanced ability to see things that are close up.

    5. In yet another sense, we don't say I was caught short yesterday but I escaped long today.

    6. @David Crosbie: "I would understand near‑sighted to denote an enhanced ability to see things that are close up."

      Absent presbyopia, with myopia the center of your focal range is moved toward you and you lose the ability to see things far away while gaining the ability to focus on very near things. It's my only superpower.

      Far-sightedness doesn't have a corresponding advantage over normal vision, because normal vision allows one to focus to infinity. In that case you just lose the ability to focus on nearby things.

    7. @David Crosbie: "In yet another sense, we don't say I was caught short yesterday but I escaped long today."
      AmE speaker here. What does this mean?

    8. The OED recognises only be taken short 'have an urgent need of a toilet'. The most recent quote is from a satirical magazine which also reads quirky anecdotes from the news.

      1977 Private Eye 11 Nov. 10/2 Taken badly short when on his way to work, and finding that both of the public lavatories in Putney were closed, Mr. Peter Herring entered a police station and asked if he could use their convenience.

      The OED lists this as sense of short as

      C adv 5. (a)
      To take by surprise, at a disadvantage; to come suddenly upon; esp. Naut. (of wind or bad weather), or colloq. (in passive) to have an urgent need to urinate or defecate.

      ...related to, among other things,

      C adv
      7 fall short (of) stop short of
      9. to cut short
      11. to sell short:

      Up to the last sense, I'm sure none could form opposites with long. I don't know enough about stockmarket jargon to exclude the possibility of sell long — but I can't imagine what it would mean.

    9. Here's a couple of long expressions, with the first certainly showing opposites:
      "The long and the short of it is that he was placed under arrest."
      "The wide receiver went long but the pass was thrown short." (Perfectly good American football expression)

      I've heard "Caught short" in AmE but it always meant "short of cash".

    10. And of course there is "short-term" / "long-term"

    11. "Caught short" in BrE usually means unexpectedly needing to use the loo and there not being anywhere to go..... "He was caught short, so went behind the nearest bush".

  9. On glasses and spectacles ...

    I speak of reading glasses, never reading spectacles and I've hear people refer to my driving glasses, not my driving spectacles. Although I think some retailers advertise sun spectacles, I've never heard it from wearers. My impression is that we seldom say reading specs, driving specs, sun specs —although they would be readily understood.

    I don't know the medical term, but my eyesight has recently deteriorated from what I think constitutes far sightedness. I'm by no means shortsighted, but my reading glasses are inadequate for medium-range texts in exhibitions and supermarkets. So I now have a pair of varifocals which I call my supermarket glasses. Similarly, neither my current reading glasses nor reading without glasses is comfortable in front of my computer screen. So I use less powerful glasses from a previous prescription — which I call my computer glasses.

    1. I think the technical term for this condition is presbyopia, or old-sight(edness?). It results from reduced ability of the muscles which control focus to accomodate, something which usually sets in in late middle age. Being quite short-sighted, I have to wear glasses to get about generally outside but can read comfortably without. At a computer screen, I'm too far away to see distinctly but the old sight means I can't use my normal glasses, so I have (less powerful lenses in) my "computer glasses", e.g. to write this.

      It would be great if "old-sighted" was used figuratively for "wise", but I've never heard that.

    2. I was prescribed reading glasses at the age of 12, and when I heard that the medical term for long-sightedness meant old sight, I was both amused and confused.

    3. I keep my reading glasses in a 'spec case'. At least, until I left them behind in Canada last month. I had to describe the potential cargo on the FedEx website ... eventually found them under 'glasses (eyewear)' ... but it was far too expensive to pay for them to be shipped back to me in the UK, so I will go to the opticians and have an eye test when the current prescription expires, as I can just about struggle on with my varifocals till then.
      I was always long-sighted as a teenager, then didn't need glasses for twenty years, until I called in the engineer because the computer screen seemed fuzzy. Now I have long sight and age-related lack of accommodation. Varifocals are a great invention!

  10. I got varifocals earlier this year. Previously, for the last 50 years, I just had reading glasses. However, the varifocals seem to work for me for watching TV, using the computer, and reading.

    Apparently, it would now be illegal for me to drive without glasses, but as I don't have a licence, that doesn't affect me.

    1. I call them (AmE) progressive trifocals (kind without lines). Love 'em (they will drive you crazy until you get used to them, though).

  11. When I hear/see specs in AmE, I think of "specifications" not glasses.

    I know people who are both nearsighted and farsighted at the same time, so it is not the case that farsighted people "can't see near" and vice versa. It is, in fact, true that farsighted people can see longer distances than normal at the expense of shorter (but not necessarily very short) distances. I'm not sure whether nearsighted people have similarly enhanced short-distance vision, but I suspect it to be true.

    1. BrE native here. I've heard specs both ways and I'd expect context to give me the meaning. As I child I certainly heard and, although I don't remember it, may have tormented glasses wearing children with comments like "Speccy four-eyes" but I don't think I'd use specs or even spectacles for eye-wear these days, of the vision corrective or sunglasses variety. I have been known to use specs as an abbreviation for spectacles, as recently as a yesterday in fact.

  12. I forgot to mention that "eyeglasses" is often used in contexts where just glasses would be ambiguous (vs the plural of "glass"). How is that handled in British English? Do you just say "specs" instead?

    1. As I've suggested in my previous post, we could use spectacles or eyeglasses. But we'd probably use glasses and something else (an extra phrase or whatever) to clarify completely, if required, or at least I would. Eyeglasses is something I have heard but really only used in replies to this blog post. Spectacles I've probably used, but not since childhood.

      And honestly I'm struggling to construct sentences and scenarios where it's genuinely ambiguous. I guess it might be if I worked in a glass factory.

    2. I think that if I was in a strange house and asking the host for a drink, I'd say, "Where do you keep your drinking glasses?" if there was a chance of ambiguity.

      And knowing my friends, if I did just ask, "Where are your glasses?" when I wanted to prepare a drink, they'd invariably say, "Resting on my nose."

    3. I have friends who might do that, except they know I'd ask them how much wine they hold... but they have a level of pedantry in other cases that would rival yours. But yes, I might distinguish drinking glasses, wine glasses, whisky tumblers and the like rather than spectacles.

    4. Actually, I don't think there are exceedingly few contexts where glasses could be ambiguous — and virtually none where that ambiguity would be of any consequence.

      Eloise's suggestion of a glass factory strikes me as a context in which you would not normally dream of speaking of your spectacles. If you did, it would be such an extraordinary situation that you'd supply the context e.g. glasses for protection or glasses to read the fine print.

      In Paul's example, the ambiguity lies not in the war glasses but in the word your. The natural and unambiguous question to ask is Where do you keep the glasses?

      In the very unlikely event that you say my glasses meaning 'my drinking glasses' the hearer might experience a few seconds of confusion, but the context and/or the continuation of the conversation will almost always remove it. And in the end, it's open to the hearer to ask for clarification.

      OK, the hearer might be stuck if you were to say I bought some glasses yesterday. But conversations don't just end like that. Either the speaker will add a comment or the hearer will ask a question and the ambiguity evaporates.

      The OED entry for eyeglass remarks

      Chiefly N. Amer. in later use

      It seems we Brits used to say eyeglass, but a century or more ago we all decided that the word just wasn't needed.

      That said, I have a vague memory of British speakers using the singular eyeglass to refer to the sort of lens-in-a-cup used by jewellers and others. Not the same thing as a monocle, which lacks the cup feature that blocks out intrusive light and background image.


      I don't think there are exceedingly few contexts

      Oh but I do. I didn't spot that I hadn't deleted don't. Sorry!

    6. We might have used eyeglass in the singular, I'd call it a loupe, possibly a jeweller's loupe (I guess because it's a homophone? Maybe monocles were commonly called loops or loupes as well?).

  13. I really enjoy the many words for (eye)glasses in Spanish. There are so many! Gafas, lentes, anteojos, and my favorite, which as far as I know is only used by Cubans, espejuelos.

  14. Interestingly, although AmE has "farsighted" instead of "long sighted" for the metaphorical sense of thinking about the future, we do have "the long view" as a noun ("in the long view," "to take the long view") instead of *"the far view."

    AmE also uses "myopic" metaphorically (but neither of the other seemingly medical terms) to mean both lack of foresight (i.e., thinking only about the present) and lack of "broadsight" (i.e., thinking only about your local context and not broader contexts). Both being only a consideration things "near" you, but along different axes.

    1. I still don't think that ‑sighted is all that metaphorical. To see into the future is not to 'think about the future'. it's a slightly extended use of see/sight but it still denotes perception. Not objective perception, of course, what you believe you see in the future may actually come to pass. (Or not.)

      View is, I suggest, slightly different in that it refers to where you direct your future-gazing sight.So

      farsighted (for me) means 'successful at predicting the future' — usually just some aspect of the future

      taking the long view means 'investigating something in the context of a long time frame'. This may mean 'considering the future' but it can also mean 'considering the past'.

      A radio programme here called The Long View has the format of examining some event/situation inn history which is analogous to a present-day concern. Recent programmes focussed on
      the Victorian beard craze of the 1850's
      The 1883 grass-roots political movement called The Primrose League
      (analogous to the recent surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn)
      The 1905 firs in a Glasgow lodging house (analogous to the recent Grenfell Tower disaster)

      Whether applied to future or past or both the long view is considered a good thing. We don't say He was criticised for taking the long view. But we can say He was criticised for being short-sighted in the years before the tragedy.

  15. What I think is interesting is that several people have described their glasses as "varifocal" which I am gleaning from context is the British English word for bifocals. Unless it is not, and is instead some other thing. My grandmother had trifocals at one point, are those varifocal?

    1. Bifocals (my mother wears them) have a sharp division between the glass areas for the reading and distance prescriptions, whereas the varifocal lenses, which may be very complex, grade into different areas and so no division can be seen by the observer. The wearer may find them difficult at first - lines of text or music seem to curve alarmingly, for example - but after a week or so the eye-brain combination has adjusted.

    2. Having been prescribed varifocals for the first time this year, I can say that they are not quite the same as bifocals. With bifocals, the lenses are divided into two, horizontally, with the top half a diverging lens for distance viewing and the bottom a converging lens for close work. Varifocals, the lenses are shaped so that the focal length varies continuously from top to bottom. So, the very bottom of the lens brings objects very close - about 20cm - into focus, slightly higher up the lens I can see objects slightly further away, and so on up to the top of the lens for distance vision. This means you have to tilt you head the right amount for whatever you are looking at, but it does mean I can see clearly at all distances.

    3. Biochmeist: Indeed. When I first put on my new glasses in the opticians, they gave me a card to read and as I moved my head, the card changed shape from a rectangle to a skewed parallelogram. And when I walked out of the shop, it felt as if the ground was further away and my legs weren't long enough to reach it.

    4. We have this technology in the US, too, and we call it "progressive lenses," but it seems unnatural to me to use that term too colloquially. "My progressive lenses" wouldn't map in just any place someone could say "my glasses" or "my bifocals."

    5. Valor: I find it very interesting how you don't (or at least I don't) notice the words and concepts that people *don't* use.

      The presence of unfamiliar words stands out, but I'd never noticed that people in the US don't talk about their varifocals, any more than I noticed that they don't use fortnights, or celebrate Boxing Day, until it was pointed out to me.

    6. I'd never heard the term varifocals either. The familiar terms for me (CanE) would be either progressive lenses or multifocals.

      Like Joel mentioned above, I wouldn't use either term as a stand-in for "glasses" unless it was important to note the type for context (e.g. "My multifocals were hard to adjust to at first", but not "Wow, I like your new multifocals frames").

      Bifocals and trifocals are used as previous commenters have described, though I find "trifocals" rare -- whether it's the word or the actual product that is less common, I couldn't say.

    7. Laura, Joel

      We only talk about my varifocals

      • if we're distinguishing them from our previous pair

      • if we have another pair which are not varifocal

      So I might say my varifocals, not my reading glasses (although what i actually say is my supermarket glasses). But my wife can only say my specs (or my glasses) even though they are varifocals.

      All British manufacturers, optometrists, retailers etc distinguish between varifocal and bifocal so we users make the same distinction

    8. I'm finding singular/plural clues interesting here, in that I've known "varifocal" much longer as a term for a photographic lens with a continuously variable focal length than as a synonym for progressive-lens eyeglasses/spectacles, but from the first time I saw "varifocals", plural, I parsed it as eyewear (without even noticing it was a different word than I'm used to hearing for that until the next time I encountered "progressives lenses").

      If I may "think aloud" for a bit...

      I also note that if someone refers to looking rather than drinking, and mentions using "a glass", I think mirror (looking glass) or telescope (spyglass), rather than monocle. Though this may have more to do with reading rather old stories than with my idiolect or dialect (nominally central-Maryland AmE, but influenced enough by exposure to other dialects, accents, and historical periods that I do not sound like my own siblings.) I have been thinking of getting prescription monocles because I am myopic in one eye, hyperopic in the other, and presbyopic in both -- I only need one lens at a time for most distances, but a different lens before a different eye at different times.

      In an unfamiliar house, looking for drinking vessels, I would probably ask, "where do you keep your glasses," instead of, "where are your glasses". It might occur to me to say "drinking glasses" if I'd noticed the person I was speaking to wore specs. Protective eyewear (i.e. not mainly sunglasses or correctives) are always "safety glasses" or "goggles". I could see a birder referring to binoculars as "glasses" but I would expect to hear "binocs" instead. Referring to "opera glasses" simply as "glasses" would confuse me for a while. Hmm. I think I would understand someone who said, "let's look at this through the glass," when referring to a jeweler's loupe or a photographer's loupe, but I think I would always say "loupe" myself. (The remaining "glass" that comes to mind in a somewhat related context is the ground glass at the focal plane of a view camera, for focussing before the film and dark-slide are inserted. For that I think I would say "on the glass" or "with the glass", never "through".)

      I remember being confused by "looking glass" (which in my dialect is nearly always "mirror" unless making a literary reference ) as a child, because "glasses" were also looked-through; somehow learning "spyglass" and "watch glass", and hearing "glasses" expanded to "eyeglasses", kinda sorted it out in my head, though intuitively rather than logically.

      My grandparents and some of my aunts (from Northern Virginia) referred to "spectacles" or "specs"; my parents said "specs" or "glasses", and my peers all said "glasses", but I would expect a local-dialect speaker to still immediately understand "spectacles" or "specs" even though I wouldn't expect to hear them say anything other than "glasses" or occasionally "eyeglasses".

      [*] IFF it can change focal length while retaining the same focus, rather than having to be refocused after changing the focal length / magnification, then it is a "zoom" lens.

  16. Br Eng speaker, I'm never heard any usage other than as described by Biochemist, Paul Dormer and David Crosbie, especially as Paul Dormer explains. I've never heard of trifocals but would assume they have three different and separate bits in stead of two.

    I've never heard of progressive lenses or multifocals. Assuming they mean the same as varifocals, I think I'd guess that correctly. I wouldn't have a clue what a progressive lens was unless somebody explained it to me. To someone unfamiliar with the term, it is opaque.

    Sally Kennett, I didn't know about 'fortnight' and 'Boxing Day'. What do people say instead?

    1. I doubt that the majority of Americans are at all familiar with the the terms fortnight or Boxing Day especially if they have no experience with, or interest in, British English. We say two weeks and December 26th.

  17. Am. Eng. speaker from the northern plains states here, I've never heard the term varifocals before either. From the way they are described I think they are what is described as no-line bifocals (or no-line trifocals as the case may be) around here -- basically bifocals but without a division line. I do think I've heard them called progressive lenses, but only in the advertising on television; I can't recall anyone actually saying that.

    Trifocals are indeed glasses with a third focal section cut in, I wear them myself. Like a few of the rest of you, the computer screen is neither in focus through the distance part at the top, nor through the reading part at the bottom, but at a length in between, and my glasses have a middle section for that. I don't mind the lined kind of glasses, but you can buy trifocals in the no-line version also.

    I didn't have trouble getting used to the line between sections when I first had to go into bifocals (and later trifocals, oh the joys of getting old...) but a lot of people I know have had and so swear by the no-line lenses which cost a bit more.

    1. No, as far as I can see, varifocals/progressive lenses are not the same as bifocals/trifocals. Indeed, the Wikipedia article on trifocals say they "are becoming rarer as more people choose to wear progressive lenses".

      Bifocals have two focal lengths, trifocals three. Varifocals are just that, the focal length changes continuously from top to bottom.

      As somebody who did a course in optics as part of a physics degree at university over forty years ago, I'd love to know more about how the lenses are designed, but googling I find only companies advertising their lenses. The Wikipedia article on progressive lenses gives no technical information, either.

      I did find this explanation on a site selling glasses:

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Interesting that Paul's explanation makes frequent use of the word progressive. Everything points to this being the precise US equivalent of varifocal . And yet Americans — or at least the AmE posters on Lynne's blog — don't seem to be familiar with the term progressive lens.

      The difference seems to be one of consumer choice. Here the spectacles and contact lenses business routinely presents the customer with a three-way offer: simple or bifocal or varifocal. At the same time they routinely offer a simple explanation of the differences between the three and the advantages and difficulties of various choices.

      The way the business works here, there's competition only when you choose who to got to — we generally use the imprecise term optician. Once you've chosen to go to a particular shop, it's almost always the case that they test you eyes and make a prescription — and you then buy glasses from them. It's not unknown for an optometrist to conduct an eye test and not be attached to a retailer, but this is not typical.

      Is there something different in the way Americans buy glasses? Do you just buy whatever lens the optometrist recommends? Or are progressive lenses considered too expensive, or too new-fangled, or too difficult to get used to? Or is it just that the people posting here have not had to buy glasses recently?

    4. Well, not my explanation, but the one from glasses2you that I found. :-) And they do seem to be a British company.

      I don't recall being given a choice when I got my new glasses in March, more a strong recommendation that I get varifocals. I needed little persuasion. I tend to do the crossword whilst watching TV and I had long got into the habit of peering over the tops of my spectacles so that the TV was in focus.

    5. A "No-Line Bifocal" lens does not have just two distinct areas of focus, though I can't say whether it's identical to what you're referring to as "varifocal". In a no-line bifocal, the top of the lens is one prescription, the bottom is a second prescription, and there is an area in between where the lens transitions smoothly from one prescription to the other. Which is to say that there is no discontinuity in magnification.

      What I can't say is whether what you refer to as "varifocal" will have wider areas of the end prescriptions (graph of magnification vs. height on the lens would be S-shaped) or a consistent change with position (graph would be a slanted line).

      As to how it works to buy lenses in the US: Go to an optician or ophthalmologist to get your eyes tested and receive a prescription for corrective lenses. Then go to an optometrist (who might be an online business these days) to pick out frames and order the lenses. At the optometrist you can specify lens material (glass or high-refractive-index polycarbonate, typically) and, if you have presbyopia, specify lined or no-line bifocal or trifocal lenses.

      As a note, my doc gave me a scrip for glasses for computer use that does not correct for distant vision, because I mentioned that I was having to tilt my head back further than I would prefer when sitting at my desk.

    6. I've seen several US websites that seem to use the terms "no-line bifocals" and "progressive lenses" as synonyms, which makes me wonder that, if progressive lenses are marketed here in the US as a fancy kind of bifocals, maybe people just think of them still as bifocals instead of as a different thing.

      I'm too young to need reading classes, so I cannot give personal experience, but I know both of my parents have progressive lenses. My dad had trifocals, I think, back in the day (he's a minister and needed the third, intermediate magnification for reading his sermons), but my mom only needed to get reading glasses much more recently, and I think she's only ever had progressives.

    7. Doug Sundseth: I do think you’ve got the US terms mixed up.
      An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D.). They can perform eye exams, diagnose and treat eye disease, write prescriptions for medication and for corrective lenses, and perform simple and complicated eye surgery.
      Optometrists earn a Doctorate of Optometry (D.O.) and can do many of the same things as an ophthalmologist but they have less training and usually do not perform complicated surgery but many are licensed to perform LASIK. The difference is similar to an Oral Surgeon and a Dentist.
      An optician is not a medical doctor but rather is a technician who is trained to use the prescription written by the ophthalmologist or optometrist to order the lenses and to select and fit glasses. They do not write prescriptions nor diagnose or treat vision problems or eye disease. I go to a somewhat high-end optician because I like their huge selection. They call themselves Optical Stylists, a term I see more and more.
      This is how it works for me in the US: I have an annual eye exam with my optometrist. If my vision has changed enough she writes a prescription for new lenses. I wear progressive lenses which simply means they allow multiple vision fields (distance and intermediate and reading) to be incorporated into a single seamless lens. I can take that prescription to any optician to have new lenses made and they can either order new lenses for my current frames or help me select new frames from the more than 1,000 on display. It can be overwhelming with so many to choose from so I trust my experienced optical stylist to select a style, shape and color that suits me best. She makes all the necessary adjustments and fine tuning to make the glasses fit properly and comfortably.
      I have never heard the term varifocal. When I refer to my glasses I simply call them my glasses. It would seem very odd to call them my progressives, or my progressive lenses. They’re just my glasses.

    8. @Jane Elizabeth: You're absolutely correct and I know better but mixed the terms. Sorry for the confusion.

    9. Whereas in the UK, the optometrist who tests your eyes will work for or even own the store that sells you your glasses.

      The larger stores will often also employ dispensing opticians, who are qualified to dispense children's glasses and various other tasks that would otherwise need an optometrist's approval. You don't need formal qualifications to recommend and fit glasses for adults to an existing prescription, though it's normally done in a store where there are qualified staff present.

      It's perfectly permissible to have your eyes tested at one store and buy your glasses somewhere else, but most people don't.

    10. (US, Mid-Atlantic) Since I became certified presbyopic I've been wearing "graduated lenses". Viewing the world through progressive lenses has a whole nother ring to it.

  18. I am neither short-sighted nor long-sighted (except that natural to the ageing process), but have astigmatism - what is that known as in AmE? Certainly I have worn spectacles (I know, but both my husband and I use the term) for most of the past 60 years, and, these days, have varifocals which also have light-sensitive lenses, so I don't have to faff about with reading-glasses and sun-glasses.... I do actually see slightly better for normal things with contact lenses, but can't be bothered....

    Incidently, I don't think I'd ever heard it called hyperopia - the term I'm more familiar with is "presbyopia".

    1. In the US, we also say astigmatism. As far as I know, there's no non-medical-sounding word for that condition.

      Also, we call those light-sensitive glasses "transitions" or "transition lenses" after the main brand that makes them here.

    2. Presbyopis is just the age-related kind, caused by the muscles losing tone, as I understand it.

    3. ...but I understood wrong. Loss of elasticity in the lens, the interwebs tell me.

    4. Thanks, Lynne.

      Joel, they are Transitions here (although Other Brands Are Available, as they say on television!).

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)