Printable Version
Pronunciation: s(y)u-d-skop Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An optical device that distorts vision so that concavity and convexity are reversed, resulting in the opposite of stereoscopic vision; "Eschervision", so to speak, for M. C. Escher once used a pseudoscope when painting his mentally confusing picures.

Notes: The practice of using a pseudoscope is pseudoscopy [s(y)u-dah-sk-pi] and vision so distorted is pseudoscopic [s(y)u-d-skah-pik], as pseudoscopic mirrors at an amusement park. The term is used widely in discussions of holography for, if you flip a hologram over, it seems to be inside out, a pseudoscopic effect. A pseudoscopic view is one in which the raised surfaces seem sunken and sunken surfaces, raised. To see the pseudoscopic effect, click on the picture below.

In Play: What a view! Myopic refers to short-sightedness, but today's word suggests a reversal of perspective, so that the prominent seems diminished and the diminished, prominent: "Sometimes the press presents us with a rather pseudoscopic view of events in the world." While few of us will ever use or even see a pseudoscope, distorted vision is something we come in contact with all too often: "The marketing firm I work for is a huge pseudoscope that leaves you with a false sense of reality."

Word History: The term comes from an invention by the physicist Charles Wheatstone (1802 - 1875). The word is based on the Greek pseudes "false" from pseudein "to lie" + skop- from skopein "to look at, examine". The root for scope is actually spek- "observe". The [p] and [k] underwent metathesis (switched places) in Greek. It is thus also the source of Latin specere "look", a root we find in perspective, inspect, spectator, spectacle, and dozens of others. It also underlies Old Germanic spih-on "spy", which ended up as spy in English and was borrowed as shpion "spy" by Russian. In fact, James Bond's archenemy, SMERSH, is a blend of smert' shpionam "death to spies", a secret Soviet counterintelligence agency during World War II. (We are not so pseudoscopic as to misjudge our debt to Greg Rutter of Queensland for suggesting today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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