An Ocularist By Any Other Name...
Medical terminology can be tough to understand. Doctors spend many years learning their trade and part of that is memorizing a lot of new Latin- and Greek-based words that your average Joe doesn’t come across every day. If your care provider is not careful, this can create a barrier between them and you, and hamper the progress of your recovery. Fortunately, many doctors and care providers take care to explain what’s going on in more accessible language that takes much of the mystery out of a potentially stressful situation. But, even with a careful explanation from the doctor, many of those words will start to fade from your memory the second you step out of the examination room.
Ocularists aren’t doctors (more on that later), but we still have our share of words and phrases that are necessary for clear communication within the field, but can complicate clear communication with patients and those who aren’t in regular contact with them.
In the field of ocularistry two of the most commonly misplaced terms are Ocularist and Ocular (To clarify: an Ocularist is the person who makes the Ocular, or artificial eye). Whether we can blame autocorrect, the lost art of Latin, or simply the familiar struggle that comes with using new and unfamiliar words, the end result is potential misunderstanding and confusion. But have no fear, we’re here to help.
Words mistakenly used instead of Ocularist:
It takes many days, weeks, and dare I say it, years of training and practice for an ocularist to master their trade. The work of making an artificial eye is often described as closer to an art than a science. There are few hard and fast rules and each ocularist must find the process that works for them through much trial and error, but I’ve never met a ocularist who had to resort to devil worship to get there. An occultist is someone who dabbles in the occult, i.e. mystical or supernatural practices and beliefs. Although it might seem like witchcraft, I assure you that the quality of your finished ocular is the product of nothing more than hard won skill...probably.
Just a couple of missing letters, but important ones. Oculist is actually an old name for an ophthalmologist, or eye doctor, and is rarely used anymore...because why use a short and easy to spell word when a far longer and irrationally spelled one will work instead? Am I right? I mean, what's with that extra ‘h’? But I digress. While it is flattering to be mistaken for a doctor, if you suddenly fall ill on a long flight, and the flight attendant asks if there is a doctor on board, you don’t really want an ocularist to raise their hand. Unless your eye fell out and you need it checked over I suppose, but otherwise no.
Doctors are generally held in high regard, and rightly so. They undergo years of training and spend their time trying to heal and save lives, what’s not to be impressed by? But ocularists are not doctors. Yes we work in the medical field, and hopefully make a positive difference to people's lives, but doctors are scientists and ocularists are technically skilled artists. Not to do my profession down, I think we do important and challenging work, but I for one am uncomfortable with the association. I don’t claim to have a PhD, my knowledge of human anatomy outside of the eye socket is pretty rudimentary, and although I have spent a good number of years studying in my field, you definitely don’t want me anywhere near your appendix if it bursts. For a short while at the start of my career I would wear a white coat when I saw patients, but the frequency with which I was called doctor made me rethink the decision. I am an artist and proud of what I do, so I try to dress professionally and smart, but I don’t wear a white coat.
Words mistakenly used instead of Ocular:
This is a pretty understandable mistake to make, the spelling is close to ocular, and oculus could be used as a description of the pupil of the eye, since it means a round or eye-like opening. But if you search for oculus, you are more likely to be presented with information about virtual reality (VR) headsets. VR headsets allow the wearer to immerse themselves in computer-generated 3D worlds like video games. Although the mistake is understandable, it’s also unfortunate, because in order to experience the 3D effect offered by these headsets you need to have two natural eyes with vision, which anyone who needs an ocular is unlikely to have.
I’ve heard and seen many versions of this word that are phonetically similar, and it wouldn’t take much of an accent to confuse the listener as to what’s really being said. Many people refer to their ocular as a prosthetic. To go a bit further down the rabbit hole here, none of them is correct. Prosthetic and prosthesis are often used interchangeably, but that is incorrect. Prosthetic is an adjective as in I wear a prosthetic eye, but prosthesis is a noun as in I wear a prosthesis. I’d like to explain that in more detail, but my highschool English classes were a number of years ago and I’ve only just stopped having flashbacks.
This might be a mistake, or I might be making unfair assumptions about someone who’s first language is Portuguese, because in that language “oculais” means eyepieces. If that is the case I apologize, and wish to express my admiration for someone who is fluent in two languages. Despite much trying I have never managed to get a second language to stay in my head in any useful way.
However, if you don’t speak Portuguese then you should try to avoid making this mistake. One exception to this might be when you want to sound classy, but be warned, if you have to explain it it ruins the effect.