Having recently discovered spade as a word for the gummy secretions of the eye, and learning to my disappointment that this us is obsolete, it occurs to me that there must be an alternative and current word for these secretions. As is so often the case, the news is mixed. First the good news: in addition to spade, three relevant words turned up:
- Next to appear in the written record (spade is first, popping up in 725) is gound, which appeared around 1000 and occurs also as gund, gunde, and gownde. It comes from the Old English gund (matter or pus) and refers to any foul matter but especially that secreted in the eye.
- Next is gum, apparently in reference to the gummy nature of such secretions. The first recorded use is by no less a writer than William Shakespeare, in Henry V:
The horsemen sit like fixed candlesticks,
With torch-staves in their hand; and their poor jades
Lob down their heads, dropping the hides and hips,
The gum down-roping from their pale-dead eyes,
And in their pale dull mouths the gimmal’d bit
Lies fowl with chaw’d-grass, still and motionless;
And their executors, the knavish crows,
Fly o’er them all, impatient for their hour. [4.4.45-52]
- Finally comes gowl, which appeared around 1665 and has no meaning other than a gummy secretion in the eye. There’s also an adjective: gowly.
Now the bad news: gound and gowl are obscure or obsolete; gum apparently remains in use, but just doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi that I think you and I are both looking for. Now that I think about it, I’ve also heard the terms sleepers and eye boogers, but again, these are clearly lacking.
Those in need of the perfect word will therefore want to petition their congress-persons, monarchs, holy seers, &c. in support of a Constitutional amendment and/or papal bull re-establishing gound or gowl (obviously spade and gum are poor candidates for reinstatement as there is too great a risk of confusion with their better-known meanings). And of course if you know of any alternatives I’ve not uncovered, please let me know.
For those of you who have made it this far, the technical name for the corner of the eye (either the inner or outer) is canthus, from the Greek kanthos meaning the same thing. If you’re looking for a less technical word, try wick or wike, both of which refer to a corner of the mouth or eye. The little openings where the tear ducts (lachrymal canals) open into the eye are the lachrymal puncta (from the Latin punctum meaning “point”).