May 14, 2013

Case File #013.05.14: FOCUS

Focus might seem like a dull, cold word, but from an etymological standpoint, it's actually kinda hot. You see, it was borrowed from the Latin focus, which meant “hearth” or “fireplace” in the classical era and was later sometimes used to mean simply “fire.” And when the word first appeared in the English lexicon in the mid-seventeenth century, it was used only in the scientific sense of “point of convergence,” as in that smokin' spot at which light rays converge after being refracted or reflected through a lens or a mirror. It took another hundred years or so for the other now common meanings of the noun—that is, “an act of concentrating on something or the thing on which one is concentrating,” “a guiding or motivating purpose,” and “clear visual or mental definition”—to show up, and the verb senses of focus (such as “to adjust a lens or one's eye to a particular range” and “to concentrate on something or to bring something into emphasis”) weren't seen until around 1775.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

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