You would think that finding out if the word eyeglasses preceded the word glasses would be a simple matter. Not so. Did eyeglasses and spectacles as I suspect, precede the word glasses? Goggles I presumed came much later but surprisingly the word already existed in middle English.

I found the following information on this optometrist article. Emphasis mine:

The word glasses probably developed firstly from the word spyglass, often used for a telescope, and then adapted to “a pair of eyeglasses” that needed to be held up to the eyes for full effect.

And on Etymology Online under spectacles I found:

spectacles (n.) "glass lenses to help a person's sight," early 15c., from plural of spectacle.

While goggles has:

goggles; "spectacles, protective eyeglasses," 1715;

Whereas "glasses" has:

glasses; "spectacles," 1660s, from plural of glass

But I found nothing concrete on eyeglasses strangely enough. Can someone trace the history of the word glasses, or provide a chronological order of the words listed in my question?

  • @rhetorician thank you for the edit. It sounds much better now.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 22:09
  • 1
    Then you have the specialized forms: quizzing glass (by 1801, eyeglass with a handle, for one eye), lorgnette (1803, eyeglasses with a handle, for two eyes), monocle (1858, eyeglass for one eye), and pince-nez (1876, eyeglasses clipped to the nose by a spring).
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 21:55
  • Thank you @Sven Yargs, I have never heard of a quizzing glass before. I was hoping someone might trace the history/development of glasses, the post needs "closure" I feel.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 22:21
  • You can see examples at mentalfloss.com/article/24320/6-other-types-eyeglasses. That article also lists a French form of eyeglasses called scissor-glasses but I couldn't find any 18th- or 19th-century references in English to this variety, so I didn't include it in my list.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Oct 15, 2013 at 23:15
  • I think it's an invalid assumption that a word like "glasses" would appear after a word like "eyeglasses". Consider guitars. Before there were electric guitars, there were no "acoustic" guitars, only guitars. Similarly, if "glasses" was understood to generally refer to eyeglass-type lenses, there would be no need for "eye" to precede it. Of course, similar shifts happen the other way as well. These days "computer" doesn't need to be prefaced with "micro-" to refer to the device on your desk. Commented Oct 17, 2013 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


OED has the following first citations for the sense of lenses to alter vision:

  • spectacles: c1430
  • glasses: 1545
  • goggles: 1715
  • eye-glass: 1768

eyeglass n.
3b. In mod. use, a lens of glass or crystal for assisting defective sight. double eye-glass, (pair of) eyeglasses : two such lenses mounted side by side so as to assist the sight of both eyes; the name is by usage restricted to a pair of lenses to be held in the hand or kept in position by a spring on the nose; those which are secured by pieces of metal placed over the ears being called spectacles.

1768 T. Harmer in Philos. Trans. 1767 (Royal Soc.) 57 283, I have often found, by the help of an eye-glass, that..I passed over great multitudes of eggs.

  • 2
    I (an American) did not know this (presumably UK) distinction between eyeglasses and spectacles.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 13:35

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