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Why Do People say “Glasses” instead of “Spectacles”?

The word glasses probably developed firstly from the word spyglass, […]

By Published On: 6 February 20122.6 min read

The word glasses probably developed firstly from the word spyglass, often used for a telescope, and then adapted to “a pair of eyeglasses” that needed to be held up to the eyes for full effect.  It was the French that invented a device that held a pair of glass lenses that pinched onto the nose to hold them in place – hence the term “pince-nez”.

The earliest form of Spectacles or Glasses were probably made by the Venetian glass blowers in the 14th century, who made optical lenses from glass and fitted them into horn rim frames.

It was only when the lenses were connected to arms hanging over the ears that the term “spectacles” came into being. The word spectacles seems to have crept in somewhere in the 18th Century, probably adapted from the latin words spectare – to observe, or specere – to look at. 

Whilst spectacles may be the historically correct terminology used to describe a pair of lenses resting on your nose, people invariably use “glasses” in everyday conversation – even the optical professionals.

The optometrist carrying out an eye test would say: “How long have you had your glasses?” whilst when organising manufacture and delivery dates might say: “When would you want to pick up your new glasses?”

But whilst the whole optical profession seems loathe using the somewhat old fashioned term “spectacles”, they have instead adopted the everyday vernacular of “specs”, to the extent of using it in business and shop names.

Developments in Eyewear

Whatever you call them – glasses, spectacles or specs – eyewear has come a long way from the rudimentary pair of glass lenses first invented.  Now they are resistant to scratching, covered in a non-reflective coating so that others can see a wearer’s eyes (and a wearer see their own eyes in a mirror), ultra lightweight and durable.

Advances in lens technology has meant that bifocal lines are out, and progressive multi-focal is in, so that  a wearer can move imperceptibly from close reading through to computer screen  activity and on to distance vision.

Innovations in manufacture mainly though automated processes of both lenses and support frames has meant that costs have been reduced to the extent that even allowing for inflation a pair of quality “specs” are great value considering how they can improve your most important sense – your vision.

And for the fashion and image conscious, the use of new materials for frames used by up and coming designers from the fashion clothing and accessory fields has given the eyewear customer a varied and up to the minute look. It’s no longer necessary to accept that just because glasses are needed to be worn that the wearer need not be in fashion.

Spectacles Still Beating the Opposition

The opposition being contact lenses and laser eye surgery. 

It’s not that the other vision solutions are not up to the mark – it’s just that spectacles have adapted to continue to have features that appeal to users – people still like to wear spectacles (or glasses if you prefer), and nowadays have more than one pair of the same prescription even to suit a mood or workplace or an outfit.


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