I'm interested in tracing the history of the word "Optical Illusion." See these two questions History of optics and https://english.stackexchange.com/q/260495/129806

It seems Greek and Latin words were mixed together to make new words / ideas. Optical Illusion is one: television is another.

Why were words mixed together? Why not keep the words in the same language? It appears Greek has a separate word for "optical illusion;" ophtalmarati. Why was this renamed?

  • $\begingroup$ οφθαλμαπάτη ofthalmapati (not -rati) is modern Greek, probably more recent than the English "optical illusion". It was not "renamed" in English. $\endgroup$
    – fdb
    Sep 21, 2015 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ Such mixed expressions are called macaronic, and they occur often because people are rarely aware of the origins of the words they are combining: homogeneous, septagon, automobile, homosexual, neuroscience, sociopath are all macaronic. Some lexicographers object to them, Samuel Johnson called them "very low", “irregular combinations” and "words that have little or no etymological legitimacy", but they are a small minority and generally ignored. jstor.org/stable/10.4169/… $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Sep 23, 2015 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ @fdb what word would the ancient Greeks have used? $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2015 at 0:49

1 Answer 1


"Optical illusion" is a phrase combining two separate words. Each was already a word in English, adapted (directly or indirectly) from respective Latin and Greek sources. Combining two English words to coin an English phrase is not at all controversial.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yea, I think the answer to the question is "there isn't one". That "optical" and "illusion" have roots in seperate languages is just a coincidence. Ditto television, "tele-" was already a prefix used in several similar english words (telegrah, telephone). That its a greek root that was combined with a Latin root is just chance. There is no "system" $\endgroup$
    – simplicio
    Sep 21, 2015 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ So somebody looking to name a new thing would just combine whatever sounded right to them? There were other names for television before television was settled on as a name. $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2015 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ In this case, it was an illusion, which was caused by optical effects. Again, the difference from television is that "optical illusion" is just an adjective-plus-noun phrase, in the same manner as "blue car" or "fat pig". $\endgroup$
    – IanF1
    Sep 21, 2015 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @IanF1 so if I understand you correctly, optical was a word already in use in English as was illusion, so whoever coined this phrase or translated it from Greek decided upon optical illusion as the best word choice. The person doing the translating wasn't using a system or convention...right? $\endgroup$ Sep 21, 2015 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ @michael_timofeev Yes, that is what I was trying to say. $\endgroup$
    – IanF1
    Sep 21, 2015 at 15:10

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