Was the band Puddle of Mudd bleary when they sang, “Everything’s so blurry”?
Bleary-eyed. Blurry vision. I know they’re close, but these two words are not one and the same.
I can’t “take it all away.”
I’m not “shoving it in your face.”
But let me “explain again to [you].”
Oh, Puddle of Mudd, I know you’re not singing about this word confusion, but for a moment, I’m going to pretend that you are.
If you’re bleary, all of these word choice rules can seem hard to manage, but honestly, when you’re not bleary, it can seem just as difficult.
- “Blurry” means unclear, unfocused, or hazy.
- “Bleary” means very tired. Yes, it can also mean dull or dimmed vision, but this usually is due to a specific cause of exhaustion.
Other things might be blurry, as in out of focus. It can be true through a camera lens, through a fogged window, or when your eyes aren’t quite awake. A photograph might be blurry too.
You might be bleary, as in exhausted or feeling bleary-eyed. Your friend who had a bit too much to drink last night (while listening to Piddle of Mudd?) might look a bit bleary. If they look a bit blurry, then you have an entirely different Back-to-the-Future, disappearing Michael J. Fox issue going on.
Thus, Puddle of Mudd sings “Everything’s so blurry,” and I feel their pain. Well, almost, I suppose.
The “blurry” vs. “bleary” question comes up because these words are close, indeed, but they aren’t always synonymous.
Digging into their history makes me feel a bit bleary though. Listening to Puddle of Mudd does kind of fit these moments.
“Bleary” has been in use since the late 14th century, coming from a tweaked version of “blear.” “Blear” dates back to the 13th century and as an adjective meant “to dim or make hazy from tears or wet eyes.” Thus, “to be bleary” means that you could possibly have blurry vision.
“Blurry” on the other hand is a relatively recent word, first used in the mid 19th century, coming from “blur,” originally meaning “a smear on a paper or other writing surface.” This early form of “blur” also could mean, “a moral stain” in the 16th century.
Both “bleary” and “blurry” seem to have a similar root in the Middle English word bleren, but having a similar root doesn’t mean that they are the same word.
If you read dictionaries for too many hours, the words might start to go blurry. You might feel bleary-eyed. Maybe it’s time to put on an old Puddle of Mudd CD and call it a day.
Join 1,000+ subscribers and sign up for my writing and editing email newsletter for more tips like this.