Visions and Visits

By Mark Nichol

Vision and visit both pertain to seeing something, and that’s no coincidence, because they are cognates, both stemming from the Latin verb videre, meaning “see.” A discussion of the words, their variations, and some related terms follows.

The word vision describes the literal ability to see and the figurative sense of something conjured by the imagination as if it is seen or even merely contemplated (the original connotation), as well as the act or power of seeing or imagination. In addition, the word refers to the quality of discernment or foresight, a sense that arose only about a century ago. A vision is also something seen, including a particularly charming or lovely person, place, or thing. Little-used adjectival and adverbial forms are visional and visionally.

Someone with discernment or foresight is called a visionary. Other words in the vision family include envision, a verb meaning “picture.” Something that can be seen is visible (the adverbial form is visibly), and the quality of being able to be seen, whether on a practical level or in the sense of celebrity, is visibility; the antonym is invisibility.

The adjective visual refers to the faculty or process of sight, and the adverbial form is visually. Visualize is the verb form, and something visualized is a visualization. (The British English spellings are visualise and visualisation.) Something that does not involve sight is nonvisual.

Related compounds are television (a compound of the Greek word tele, meaning “far off,” and vision), audiovisual (an adjective referring to technology that enables sight and sound), and proper nouns such as VistaVision, the brand name of an obsolete form of wide-screen cinematography.

Several words referring to the face include the syllable vis, which stems from videre and refers to one’s appearance or face, including visage, a noun that is a synonym for “face,” and visor, originally a reference to the part of a helmet covering the entire head that protects the eyes (and later to an eyeshade). Envisage is a synonym for envision. (A related term is the adopted French term vis-à-vis, meaning “face to face,” which in English is a preposition meaning “face to face with” or “in relation to” or “compared with.” Less commonly, it is a noun referring to a counterpart or a person one is on a date with, or an intimate conversation, as well as an adverb meaning “together.”)

Visit began as a verb describing someone attending on another to benefit or comfort and later came to refer to one or more people paying a call to one or more others, as well as the sense of afflicting or coming on to (as in the biblical verse “The sins of the fathers are visited on the sons”). Later, it became a noun describing the instance of paying a call. One who visits is a visitor (the term, for example, refers to members of a sports team coming from somewhere else to compete with the home team), and a visitation is an instance of an official visit (or is an adjective referring to such a visit). Visit, visitor, and visitation also have a connotation of an examination or inspection of a place of religion. To revisit is to consider something a second time; it is generally not used to mean literally “visit again.”

The verb advise and the noun advice, referring to recommendations given, ultimately derive from videre by way of the Old French term avis, meaning “idea,” “judgment,” or “view.” Advisory is the adjectival form as well as a noun referring to a report that gives advice or suggests a course of action. (Despite that spelling, adviser is favored over advisor to describe someone who does so.)

To supervise is literally to look over, to manage or monitor an area or a procedure; the act of doing so is supervision and the actor is a supervisor, and the adjectival form is supervisory. Meanwhile, revise means “look again” and refers to changing something—generally, something written—that one (or someone else) has produced; the adjective is revised, and the noun for the act is revision. (There is no direct actor noun, although one might be referred to as a reviewer.)

To improvise is to do something unprepared or to make something using available resources; the act is improvisation.

Words from other languages that stem from videre include visa, from the Modern Latin phrase charta visa, which literally means “paper that has been seen” and refers to a document or to a sticker or stamp in a passport that confirms authorization to visit a foreign country, and vista, from the Italian word for “sight” or “view,” which refers to a prospect or a view of a landscape or seascape.

A subsequent post will discuss words stemming from videre that do not include the element vis.

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5 Responses to “Visions and Visits”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I once saw a list of words (in a language class) which are all international. They are spelled the same and mean the same everywhere. These words included VISA, passport, taxi, Coca-Cola, hotel, and the like.
    In fact, the creators of the VISA credit card chose that name because it was already a word that was known and understood everywhere. Some words that involve international travel are completely different in various countries. E.g. “airport” in English, “Flughafen” in German, “luchthaven” in Dutch, and “aerodrome” in old-fashioned English. On the other hand, the French word is very similar to modern English: “aéroport”, and it is “Аэропорт” in Russian.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “…ultimately derive from videre by way of the Old French term ‘avis’, meaning ‘idea’, ‘judgment’, or ‘view’.”
    Interesting because there is a Latin phrase, used in English, that is quite different in meaning: “rara avis”. This means “rare bird”, literally, but the meaning has become to be much extended: “an exceptional person or thing”. In other words, George Washington was truly a rara avis, and so were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.
    “These are the times that try men’s souls!”

  • Dale A. Wood

    “the adjective is revised, and the noun for the act is revision. (There is no direct actor noun, although one might be referred to as a reviewer.)”
    I disagree. My sources on the Web tell me that reviser, revisor, and revisory are perfectly good words.
    E.g. The first reviser of the script detested what he saw, and he rewrote most of it. Then the second reviser of the script disliked the second version even more! The whole thing needed a revisory board.
    The following is the truth:
    Mr. A wrote the first script of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Then the first reviser, Ms. B, make many changes to it. Next came the second reviser, Mr. C, who made even more changes. Finally, the director, Stephen Spielberg, looked at the results, and he make some more changes. At this point, Mr. A, Ms. B, and Mr. C all disavowed the script, and they refused to allow their names to be used in the credits as “writers”. (Yes, disavowed!) At this point, Mr. Spielberg took the only option that was left: he listed himself as the writer of the script.
    Such is how one of the masterpieces of science fiction films came to be.
    Furthermore, a man and a woman (married) were the producers of the film. Sadly, within a few years, the woman died of cancer, and so those two could never make a film together, and also she was unable to comment on, or to savor, the results later on.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “To revisit is to consider something a second time; it is generally not used to mean literally ‘visit again’.”
    I disagree. I think that “to revisit” is used in this way every day.
    E.g. When I visited the Crater Lake (in Oregon) for the first time, it was in May, and the lake was completely frozen over and surrounded by deep snow. When I revisited the lake, it was in July, and everything was completely unfrozen and beautiful, and I could see surface of the blue water. This made me look forward to seeing Lake Tahoe.
    E.g. After the pilgrims visited Lourdes and Fatima for the first time, they looked forward to revisiting them over and over again.
    E.g. When the climber scaled Mt. Whitney for the first time, he must have been fascinated because he revisited the peak 49 more times to make it a round 50 times.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I disagree: “Envisage is a synonym for envision.”
    The truth is that “Envisage is an awkward and stilted British synonym for envision.”
    “Envision” is a much better word.

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