I had my eyes tested yesterday. Maybe I should have soon anyway, but my wife ‘persuaded’ me. It’s probably no secret to say that the eye tests exploit the fact that some letters look more similar than others, for example K and X, or C, O and Q. At one point, the optometrist took my glasses out of the room, so I looked around to see what I could read without my glasses. A nearby machine was labelled as a XXX-XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX. With a bit of squinting, I could easily make out the first three letters as ‘NON-’ and the last word as ‘CAMERA’, especially as it looked like a camera. With a bit more squinting, I made out the middle word, which was ‘RETINAL’ – okay, I’m reasonably familiar with retina and retinal. But the second half of the hyphenated first word defeated me until I moved about 15 cm closer, and made out MYDRIATIC, which is a totally new word for me – I couldn’t even guess what it means. My point is that we will recognise familiar words quicker than unfamiliar or unknown ones.
After the optometrist determined which lenses I need (slightly weaker than my current ones), she put a contraption with those lenses in it on my face then gave me a page filled with various kinds of writing at various sizes. One of the examples was music, and I always try to identify music: is it real, if so, what is it; or is it more or less obviously fake? At a first read through, it sounded familiar. At a second read through, I said ‘Oh, that’s Ebony and Ivory’, before realising that she is probably too young to remember that. My first guess was 1985; it was in fact 1982. If the optometrist was alive in 1982, she was very young.