In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros


Seeing Life Differently

President George H.W. Bush never dealt well with complexity. Searching for some cutting issues for his second campaign, he asked a friend who suggested he go alone to Camp David to figure out where he wanted to take the country. 'Oh,' said Bush in exasperation, 'the vision thing.' It was that same lack of vision — his inability to grasp the larger picture that later came back to haunt him, in part, costing him the election to Bill Clinton.

No one can charge us with a lack of vision (from the Latin videre, "to see."). This column, is, in fact, predicated on the notion that seeing is believing.

And the Good Book, no less, is there to back us up; chapter and verse: New Testament, John 20:25. There you'll find the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared, until he first confirmed it with his own two eyes — and by feeling the wounds Jesus had received — thus creating our first Doubting Thomas, who, of course, went on to serve as the perfect model for skeptics and cynics thereafter.

Not everyone sees eye to eye on the Good Book. Consensus, however, believes it's where the expression originated (Isaiah 52:8). "Unfortunately, someone misunderstood the original intent behind the phrase. It didn't mean that two parties were "in agreement," but that "they must see with their own eyes."

Seeing eye to eye with someone also doesn't always result in "an intimate coming together." It can also put you in closer proximity to a hostile confrontation, as when you go head to head, face to face, nose to nose or eyeball to eyeball with them, or as the Italians put it, end up a quatrocchi, "at four eyes."

Going eyeball to eyeball with an enemy is a phrase often associated with U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk who used it during the Cuban Missile Crisis ( "...and they blinked"); though the phrase actually originated not with him, but with different reporters during the Korean War around 1950. And if the full truth be known about Cuba, no one blinked; sanity simply prevailed, thanks to the initiative of the Russians.

That having been said, most hostile situations are never actually quite what they first appear — there is more to them than meets the eye. Though noted critic Alexander Wolcott wittily turned it on its head, creating "there is less to them than meets the eye" — when he overheard the remark by actress Tallulah Bankhead and then expropriated it as his own. Alas, she wasn't being witty, just misspoken, creating an all too profound malapropism in the process.

More recently we've had Stanley Kubrick's film, "Eyes Wide Shut." For some it was a real eye opener — "startling" or "shocking;" for the majority, however — it proved just so much shut-eye.