The Greeks Had A Word For It

In Isaac Asimov’s essay, The Rigid Vacuum, he describes Aristotle’s coining of the word ether to describe what must lie beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

“It was impossible to reach the heavens and study this mysterious substance, but it could at least be given a name.  (The Greeks were good at making up names, whence the phrase, “The Greeks had a word for it.”)

And so they probably did, a word for most everything, but what that word is is sometimes elusive.

Our patient was quite out of it, eyes open but rolled back in the head, mid- and lower-airway at that borderline point where one more ounce of fluid will completely remove lung sounds, but right now sounding like Aqualung: “And you snatch your rattling last breaths with deep sea diver sounds”.  Transport was swift but uneventful, and the patient was placed into the hands of the ICU staff just as the lasix started working on that fluid buildup.  Of course, Bambulancious Things Were Done, but that isn’t what this is about.

It was in the writing of the report that I realized, “Eyes rolled up” just didn’t sound right.

“Eyes rolled back in the head” – brings to mind something Tim Burton would do with a claymation character.   “Eyes looking up” – the patient wasn’t really looking anywhere.  “Eyes aimed at… eyebrow?  Forehead?”  It seemed important to note just how far down this patient was, that the eyes were open but not tracking at all.

I eventually wrote the report best I could, but decided there must be a better word for eye positioning when “open” and “closed” would just not do.  It took three days of diligent searching to find these words, but find them I did at

I thought I’d shamelessly, and without permission, share a clipped version of the really excellent information there:

Dextroversion (looking right – patient’s 3:00 position)
Levoversion (looking left – patient’s 9:00)
Supraversion or sursumversion (looking straight up – patient’s 12:00)
Infraversion or deorsumversion (looking straight down – patient’s 6:00)
Dextroelevation (looking right & up – patient’s 2:00)
Dextrodepression (looking right & down – patient’s 4:00)
Levoelevation (looking left & up – patient’s 10:00)
Levodepression (looking left & down – patient’s 8:00)

So there it is.  For your next report, where the patient’s eyes are rolled back in his head, you can use these instead.

Of course, these are Latin words and not Greek, but I never heard that “The Latins had a word for it.”


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