Almost everyone today uses the term glasses to refer to what was once widely referred to as spectacles. Even those working in the optical trade now use the word glasses instead of the traditional spectacles.
Words and their usage are constantly going in and out of fashion, but It's interesting to examine how and why the word glasses has become so much more popular than spectacles.
Most people think of glasses as the modern term, while spectacles sound slightly old-fashioned. They couldn't be more wrong. It turns out that things are exactly the other way around.
Research shows, for example, that more than five as many people type the word 'glasses repair' into a search engine than use the term 'spectacles repair', and no one in the world ever refers to sunglasses as 'sun spectacles'.
Many sources claim that the word glasses probably derives from the word spyglass, an early word for the telescope and that it then probably adapted to " a pair of eyeglasses" when two lenses were joined together and held up to the eyes for full effect. Unfortunately, the Oxford English Dictionary shows the term eye-glass was first used in 1768, while the word glasses was used to describe eyewear as early as 1545, more than 200 years earlier.
Even more of a shock is that the word 'goggles', which many presume to have come into use much later, is a word that was used in Middle English around 1350 as 'gogelen' – a sideways look – hence the common expression 'to look agog' and the use of the word goggles for wraparound eyewear.
So the word glasses is much older than spectacles, which almost certainly derives from the material used to make them. The old English expression 'glaes' is the term for a glass drinking vessel. The earliest forms of modern glasses, or spectacles, were probably manufactured by the Venetian glassblowers in the 14th century, who fitted optical lenses into frames made of horn. The word glasses to describe a pair of lenses set in a frame resting on the nose and ears used to correct or assist defective eyesight became common in the 1660s.
The word spectacles seems to have been adopted in the 18th century and comes from the Latin 'spectare', to observe or to look at. So it would seem that the word 'glasses' was once the old-fashioned term while the word 'spectacles' was the new boy on the block. Nowadays, hardly anyone uses the term spectacles in modern speech. Even a professional specialist will ask when you wish to "pick up your new glasses".
Yet the shortened form of 'specs' for spectacles appears to be making a comeback – look at shop signs and big-name brands like Specsavers. Whatever you choose to call them, glasses, specs, eyewear or goggles, they have grown from the rudimentary lenses strung together with wireframes to become modern must-have fashion accessories.
Sunglasses, in particular, are a modern-day fashion item on everyone's shopping list. Innovation and technological advances have made them light, stylish, and highly protective of the eyes. New materials and access to global markets have also made it an open day for up-and-coming designers. The growth in eyewear as a fashion accessory means that glasses can be worn even by those with perfect eyesight. Nowadays people buy glasses (spectacles if you prefer) to match the clothes and the occasion, for the office and the office party. And, if they ever need an overhaul or even a glasses repair, people need to look no further than AlphaOmega.