It is commonplace, almost automatic, to use 'seeing' as a metaphor. "Yes, I see," means, "I understand," and some people are are insightful while others are visionary. But some people 'can't see the forest for the trees,' and some things 'aren't worth a second look'.
This week we present sight terms with potential use as metaphor.
lyncean – pertaining to or like a lynx; keen-sighted.
– Bill Kauffman, My favorite Martian - astronomer Percival Lowell, American Enterprise, Jan-Feb, 1998
purblind – 1. partially sighted. 2. lacking in discernment or understanding.
[originally meant 'completely blind', from 'pure' + 'blind']
– Winston Chrurchill, March, 1940 broadcast, excoriating those waiting on the sidelines
An apparently technical debate is taking place on Europe, with much purblind stumbling among the small print, but great issues are at stake.
– Bruce Anderson, The Spectator, Nov. 2, 1996
"You drive much faster than my mummy, mister."
I slowed down from a blind seventy to a purblind fifty.
"Why do you think I have ceased caring for you, Lo?"
"Well, you haven't kissed me yet, have you?"
– Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
"I see," said the blind carpenter, as he picked up his hammer and saw.
Today's quotes struck me as especially enjoyable, so do forgive me for going on at length.
– 1. improper alignment of the eyes (e.g., cross-eye, lazy eye, etc.)
– 2. fig; rare: perversity of intellectual perception
[from Gk. strabizein ‘to squint’]
– David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest: A Novel
A lawyer is a moral strabismic, who revels in sharked up reasons.
– Elbert Hubbard, Contemplations (1902), in Oxford Dict. of American Legal Quotations
... savage races can be brought to the knowledge of, and obedience to, an orderly civil community. The instruments of civilisation must vary with the various character of the life upon which they are to operate effectively. Yet there are strabismic monitors of African civilisation who, representing no high moral standard in themselves, have laid down a rule of conduct for the Congo Free State which disregards that principle. It has been this narrow view of a liberal civilising scheme that has caused so much mischievous mewling in Great Britain concerning alleged misrule in Central Africa.
– Henry Wellington Wack, The Story of the Congo Free State (1905)
[Agravaine is imprisoned in the castle.] It was a nice room, but to one in Agravaine’s state of suppressed suspicion a trifle too solidly upholstered. The door was of the thickest oak, studded with iron nails. Iron bars formed a neat pattern across the only window. … In the morning the strabismic plug-ugly with the red hair brought him food and drink, while in the evening the non-grunter did the honours. It was a peaceful life, but tending towards monotony, and Agravaine was soon in the frame of mind which welcomes any break in the daily round.
– P.G. Wodehouse, Sir Agravaine; A Tale of King Alfred’s Round Table, in The Man Upstairs
inveigle – to win over a person by deceitful coaxing, flattery, cajolery
This is a 'vision' word, for the root sense is 'to blind' the victim's judgment. From F. or M.Fr. aveugler 'to make blind', or some form of that term. This in turn is from late L. aboculus, from = ab without + occulus eye.
You may recognize one of our sample quotes, used last week for another word.
– Richard Dooling, Bet Your Life
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
To view his collection of stamps,
And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
The wine, his cigar and the lamps:
"Have some madeira, m'dear."
- Flanders and Swann
We know the term tunnel vision - 1. inability to clearly perceive things unless they are close to the center of the field of view. 2. informal the tendency to focus exclusively on a limited view.
– Mark Henricks, Entrepreneur, April, 1996
We previously noted that 'scotoma' would be suitable for figurative use. I can now such figurative use by Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Sacks's usage appears in a collection which states its theme thus: "Scientists and historians can cite many cases of scientific and technological claims, hypotheses, and proposals that, viewed in retrospect, have apparently taken an unaccountably long time to be recognized."
- Jacket blurb for Prematurity in Scientific Discovery: On Resistance and Neglect (Ernest B. Hook, editor)
But scotoma involves more than prematurity, it involves the deletion of what was originally perceived, a loss of knowledge, a loss of insight, a forgetting of insights that once seemed clearly established. All the are surprisingly common in all fields of science. They raise the deepest questions about why such lapses occur. What makes an observation or a new idea acceptable, discussible, memorable? What may prevent it from being so, despite its clear importance and value?
– Oliver Sacks, Scotoma: Forgetting and Neglect in Science, in the above book
myopic – nearsighted; unable to see distant objects clearly; also fig.: lacking foresight; shortsighted
There is of course a counterpart medical term meaning farsighted: hyperopic. I find it interesting that we do not use that term figuratively. Our figurative has adopted only the negative term, not the praiseworthy one.
- Henry Blofeld, The Independent, 22 Sept. 2003. I understand that Mr. Blofeld is a cricket-commentator of some note.
… even today officially sanctioned discrimination is not a thing of the past. Against this background, claims that law must be "colorblind" … must be seen as aspiration rather than as description of reality. This is not to denigrate aspiration … Yet we cannot … let color blindness become myopia which masks the reality that many "created equal" have been treated within our lifetimes as inferior both by the law and by their fellow citizens.
– US Sup. Ct. Justice Brennan, in Regents of U. of Calif. v. Bakke (1978)
Probably because there is nothing advantageous to being hyperopic. Normal human vision can focus on objects at optical infinity (e.g. stars). Hyperopic individuals may have a far point beyond optical infinity but because there is nothing out there it isn't helpful. Metaphorically, a hyperopic politician would be one who thinks he sees the big picture but can't read a newspaper.
Regarding lyncean, it seems that Galileo was a member of the Academy of Lynxes, so named because the lynx is known for its keen eyesight.
Now I am not sure about the name of the Lyncean Academy. This site says that it was named from Lynceus, the argonaut of Greek mythology who was renowned for his sharpness of sight. That's 2 disagreeing sites. Has anyone heard of this Lyncean Academy? Any thoughts on which of these sites is correct?