Monday, March 08, 2010

"I See," Said the Blind Man, As He Picked Up His Hammer and Saw

The above is one of the phrases of my childhood, of which there were many, mostly picked up and quoted by my father until the rest of us started employing them, too. This one is particularly quintessential, because it is somewhat rhythmic, repeatable, private-joke-able and contains a really terrible pun. My brother and I picked up the pun skilz. My mother deplores them.

Anyway, I thought of this out of the blue today because what I was really contemplating was the much shorter phrase, "I see." I would like to posit that it does not mean what it sounds like it means.

I think what "I see" is supposed to mean, or supposed to sound like it means, is something along the lines of, "Oh, I get it. I understand." It sounds a little formal or old-fashioned, so maybe leave out the "I get it" part. The thing is, some people still use this phrase, and the ones I know who do, almost never mean, "I understand" or "that makes sense." Or if they do, they don't sound like it.

When someone asks me a question and I answer and explain my answer and they follow up with "I see," they might just be making "I was listening even though I really wasn't" noises. Or they might (which is often the impression I get) actually be meaning something along the lines of "That's a silly idea, Jenn," or "Okayyyy . . . ?" or "I really disagree with that course of action but you seem set on it and I don't feel like arguing, so do as you like, I guess."

Really, I feel that "I see" fits into the category of Ambiguous Listening Noises, kind of like the ever-useful word, "Interesting." Sometimes the one being listened to might call you out when you use one of these stock Noises, but it's generally safer and more socially acceptable to just kind of take a mental note, if one wishes, and leave it at that. Or you could just write a blogpost about it.


Anonymous said...

I see (said the blind man)....

Jennwith2ns said...

Oh come on, Anon. (Like that? It rhymes.) At least if you're gonna be that way, don't go all anonymous on us. Own your snarkiness. OWN it. :)

Jeff said...

That's too funny. This goofy little pun played an important role in my family history, too.

I was trying to remember when Jesus adressed this issue. (Not of puns, but of seeing.) I think He was quoting a prophet, perhaps it was when he was discussing the meaning of parable with his disciples... Something along the lines of "though they had eyes they did not see."

Perhaps this is a tangential connection, but I guess what I was noticing is that sometimes we think we see, and claim that we see, when in fact we don't.

Andrew Dale Irwin said...

I'm about eight years late to the conversation....but my father used to say this all the time. One day I just stared saying "I see" to whatever he was saying and he asked me if I knew the rest of it. Pulling a blank, I answered with a quick no. But as soon as I heard it I found it as funny as always, even thinking on it now brings a smile to my face.