I was curious as to the etymology of the Spanish word gafas, meaning glasses (spectacles).

Wiktionary only vaguely offers the following, and other searches have been fruitless.

Maybe related to French faire gaffe ‎(“pay attention”), or German gaffen ‎(“to stare”)

What is the etymology of 'gafas'?

3 Answers 3


In 1611, Covarrubias defined the term "gafas" as following (text adapted):

GAFAS, instrumento con que se arma la ballesta [...] porque hace curvar y torcer la verga de la ballesta hasta encajarla en la nuez.

If you search in the CORDE this word before 1700, this is the meaning you are going to find for every match. Covarrubias said that "gafas" came from a Hebrew verb, "Cafaf", meaning "to bend". In the same dictionary, "gafo" was:

[...] un enfermo de cierto género de lepra [...] el cual [...] encoge los nervios de manos y pies: y particularmente les llamamos gafos a los tales enfermos por encorvárseles los dedos de las manos, como a las aves de rapiña.

In fact, by then it already existed the word

GAFAR, [...] arrebatar con las uñas, o con instrumento encorvado y gafo.

So, "gafo/a" just meant "torcido", "doblado" ("bent"). In the same dictionary we can find the word

ANTOJOS, los espejuelos que se ponen delante de la vista para alargarla a los que la tienen corta, invención admirable, y de gran provecho para los viejos y los cortos de vista, y para no cansarla leyendo o escribiendo.

These "espejuelos" or spectacles ("antojos" because they were positioned "ante los ojos") did not have a frame as they have today. But then someone invented a frame that made them fixed in your face via an elongation that went behind your ears. This elongation was curved, and thus it was something "gafo". In the RAE dictionary from 1803 we can see the following definition:

GAFAS. Las presillas, o manecillas, con que se afianzan los anteojos en las sienes, o en las orejas.

But in fact, from the first RAE dictionary from 1734 we can see that

GAFAS. En el estilo familiar, vale lo mismo que Antojos.

So at first, what was "gafas" was the mount with the curved elongations, and it was a colloquial word, being "antojos" much more formal until the XIX century, in which the term "gafas" began to be widely used in literature.


A search in spanish with google brings these results:

Laboratorio del Lenguaje: de donde vienen gafos y gafas, 2006

La Vanguardia: las gafas, 2013

In a nutshell, the term 'gafas' comes from the shape of the frame. Which reminded the arm's shape of those afflicted by leprosy, at the time lenses were first mounted in a frame.

  • 2
    Can you explain this a bit further? What does the frame have fm do with it? Nov 3, 2016 at 21:03

I have been looking into the same matter.

The only thing that I could find that provided subjective sense to me was that the name "gafas" was derived from the famous Andalusian eyes physician Ghafiqi who lived in 12th-century Andalusia.
His full name was Muhammad ibn Aslam Al-Ghafiqi. His statue is in Córdoba to mark his outstanding work in the field of Ophthalmology (in terms of treatment, medication and surgery of the eyes) which is considered a breakthrough in the medical field. He is the author of Al-Murshid fi’l-Kuhhl "The Right Guide to Ophthalmology".

This Arab origin predates the use of the word in Spanish by some centuries but the same thing happened with the names of other Arab inventions like the name for cámara from Arabic komra (Ibn al-Haytham created a camera obscura, al-Komra al Mothlema in the 11th century) or the name for medicina from Arabic مادة سينا madett Sina ("Sina's substance", for the remedies that famous Ibn Sina made in late 10th - early 11th century).

  • Please find my feedback in the reply below as there is a limitation on the number of words in the comments section :) Jul 15, 2019 at 11:23
  • 1
    I just saw your message. I will do that. Thanks! Jul 15, 2019 at 11:38
  • Studying the language is now "conspiracy"? "western societies hiding the Arab roots"? .. I am not sure how you reached to this conclusion, but this is not the mindset I write from. Jul 15, 2019 at 13:34
  • Could you please let me know what is that you consider a "solid base"? (a potato also produces electricity if you connect wires to it but if you found potatoes in an old jar you wouldn't say they were batteries) This is not an argument and was relatively recently discovered. It's apparent that the its what I presented that didn't find "liking" rather being judge for its intellectual material. The linguistic foundation still unchallenged rather argued against on the same grounds/ foundations. Jul 15, 2019 at 13:40
  • There are those who reestablished what are considered today as facts without being re-validated or established on solid foundations. The dismissal of the thought of the likelihood that what I brought just without even trying to check how sound the information I provided and the consideration of it as "conspiracy martial" makes me question the intellectual foundation I first though this forum is built for. As academics and researchers looking for the truth, what I presented shouldn't be threatened to be "deleted" just because I presented an idea that doesn't come across as "well-liked". Jul 15, 2019 at 13:49

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