• cataract
  • audio pronunciation
  • \KAT-uh-rakt\
  • DEFINITION

noun

1
: a clouding of the lens of the eye or of its surrounding transparent membrane that obstructs the passage of light
2
a : waterfall; especially : a large one over a precipice b : steep rapids in a river c : downpour, flood
  • EXAMPLES

"Kale contains tons of beta-carotene and lutein which can ward off blindness and cataracts caused by UV rays." — From an article by Brian Arola in the Hibbing Daily Tribune (Minnesota), April 3, 2014

"After a broken cataract of about twenty feet, the stream was received in a large natural basin filled to the brim with water, which, where the bubbles of the fall subsided, was so exquisitely clear that … the eye could discern each pebble at the bottom." — From Sir Walter Scott's 1814 novel Waverley

  • DID YOU KNOW?

The meaning of "cataract" we're most familiar with is also the oldest. It dates to the 14th century and comes from the Latin word "cataracta," meaning "portcullis," probably because the ocular cataract obstructs vision in a way reminiscent of the way the portcullis's heavy iron grating obstructs passage into a fortress or castle. Latin "cataracta" has another meaning, however—"waterfall"—and that meaning gave us the water-related meanings that came in later centuries. The connection between the two Latin meanings can be seen in "katarassein," the Greek source of "cataracta." It means "to dash down"—an action we see in both the slamming portcullis and the cascading waterfall.

Test Your Memory: What former Word of the Day begins with "r" and means "having a rank smell or taste" or "offensive"? The answer is …

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