A concept cluster quiz

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What do the following concepts have in common lexically? (1) understanding; (2) judging; (3) experiencing; (4) finding out; (5) dating; (6) consulting; (7) visiting; (8) ensuring; (9) escorting; and (10) sending away?

I won't tell you just yet. Let's see just how many minutes it takes to get a correct answer entered in the comments below. Looking in pages 118-119 of Nikolas Gisborne's new book The Event Structure of Perception Verbs (OUP, 2010) counts as cheating, so don't do that…

[Short pause]

Well, you Language Log readers are just incredible; the first commenter to get the right answer (i.e., the first commenter) had completed posting in under three minutes from the random time (11:51 a.m. Eastern) at which I posted the question. Yes, the answer is that they are all expressed by the one verb see. I thought that by leaving all reference to visual perception off the list (sneaky!) I was at least going to slow you down a bit, but it was not so.

Not all of you will have seen how all the senses can be exemplified, so here are a few examples:

  1. understanding: I see what you're saying.
  2. judging: I see honesty as the fundamental prerequisite.
  3. experiencing: Our business saw some hard times last year.
  4. finding out: I'll see whether he's available.
  5. dating: I heard that she's seeing someone.
  6. consulting: You need to see a doctor.
  7. visiting: I'd be go and see my aunt for a while.
  8. ensuring: I'll see that this is done immediately.
  9. escorting: Let me see you to your car.
  10. sending away: I'll come to the airport and see you off.

Sometimes (and I feel that I may perhaps have said this before) I wonder how and why human languages seem to be so completely content with the wild and multifarious polysemy and ambiguity that afflicts them. The people who think clarity involves lack of ambiguity, so we have to strive to eliminate all multiple meanings and should never let a word develop a new sense… they simply don't get it about how language works, do they?


  1. Joe said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 11:54 am


  2. Russell said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:05 pm

    I'd answer, but I'm biased by simply knowing a certain person. (don't click if you don't want a/the answer)

    (also: does one of those concepts cover the sense with a time period subject? "Experiencing"?)

  3. Dan M. said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

    I fail to see how one 'sees' either escorting or sending away, but I'm sure I'm just missing something.

  4. Joe said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

    I'll see you home, I'll see you off.

  5. JP Villanueva said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    The only "see" that I don't get is "judging." is it "to see fit?"

  6. Tom Saylor said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    (1) I see what you mean.
    (2) It was seen as inappropriate.
    (3) I've seen all kinds of heartache in my years.
    (4) Let's see who's winning.
    (5) They've been seeing each other for a month now.
    (6) I'll need to see my lawyer before I sign something like that.
    (7) She was away seeing relatives.
    (8) See that this doesn't happen again!
    (9) I'll see you to the door.
    (10) We went to the station to see him off.

  7. Joe said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

    Maybe " I'll see you out " has more of a sense of dismissal.

  8. anatsuno said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

    First time I grasp one of those on my own – and in under a minute! No one else will be proud of that but me, of course; I'll count it as an achievement anyhow.

  9. Karl Weber said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    seeing also = "matching wagers with" ("I'll see you and raise you five bucks . . . ")

  10. John Lawler said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    My browser reports that the string "metaphor" had not yet appeared in this discussion.

  11. Jens Fiederer said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    For the last two, it feels to me like the meaning is not inherent in the word "see" by itself, but in the constructions "see off" and "see to ".

    "I'll see you over the mountain" and "I'll see you around the bush" don't trigger the latter meaning in my brain.

  12. Jens Fiederer said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    Ooops, apparently using angle-brackets is a bad idea in these comments. "see (object) off" and "see (object) to (location)" where what I actually entered, only with pointier brackets.

    [(myl) In contexts where html interpretation may be happening, such as WordPress comments, you should use < for the left-hand angle bracket, and > for the right-hand version.]

  13. marie-lucie said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

    I too had guessed 'see' right away, although I was not quite sure about some of the individual meanings..

    I am not sure that there needs to be a (10) "sending away" for "to see off": "seeing" in this context is the same as in (9) "escorting": I will see [= escort] you … to the door, to your car, as you go off. To "see" someone in those circumstances is to escort them to make sure they actually (and safely) go where they are supposed to.

  14. Brett said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Mitt Romney tried (and largely failed) to use the many meanings to "see" to cover for a lie:

    When he said that as a boy he “saw” his father march with the civil rights leader Martin Luther King — a claim debunked yesterday — Mr Romney now says that he used the word “saw” as a figure of speech. Mr Romney said: “If you look at the literature, if you look at the dictionary, the term ‘saw’ includes ‘being aware of’ in the sense I’ve described. I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great [civil rights] effort.”

  15. JimG said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    Personally, I'd prefer in some situations to send someone away, rather than escort them, as in:
    I'll see him in Hell, first!
    Would you see yourself out?

  16. Will said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    Like some other commenters, I found this one a lot easier than the last couple of these quizzes. "See" was the first thing I thought of, and it occurred to me after only reading the first 3 items (then checked out okay with the rest). I wonder if that's because "see" is a more common word or if there is something about this particular set of clues that lends itself to easier solving.

  17. marie-lucie said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 4:44 pm


    I'll see him in Hell, first!

    Here I think that "see" just means "see": if the meaning was "escort", it seems to me that the sentence would have "into Hell" – the speaker would see himself making sure that the other guy makes it to the door of Hell. Here the speaker imagines that both he and the other guy meet in Hell, and since he does not himself intend to go to Hell, but he thinks that the other guy is headed that way, it means "never".

    Would you see yourself out?

    Here the speaker asks the other person to be his own escort. Only the word "out" implies movement, like "off" in the earlier example.

  18. Simon Cauchi said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

    GKP: "I won't tell you just yet. Let's see . . ."


  19. Bobbie said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

    Another one to add to the concept cluster?: "matching" as in "I'll see your bet…."

  20. Geoff Nunberg said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    There are interesting aspectual effects here; cf "Is she seeing anyone?" and "She should see someone."

  21. GAC said,

    May 19, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

    On a tangential note, "I'd be go and see my aunt for a while," sounds interesting in it's own right. To me it sounds like something I would accept from someone else but not something I would construct from my own internal grammar unless I was trying to imitate it for laughs or somesuch, otherwise I might say "going to see" or "going and seeing/visiting". Where did that example come from? I'm sure there's a posting on the structure somewhere in these mammoth archives.

  22. Gordon P. Hemsley said,

    June 7, 2010 @ 10:30 pm

    Couldn't "take" fall into a number of these categories, too?

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