Dear Fellow Word Watchers,
Dani and I were talking about the Oscar nominations and how painfully out of touch we’ve become. Not too many years ago, we would have seen most of the nominees for best picture prior to the big night; now I’m not sure I could list their titles. I suggested we remedy our ignorance and go see at least one of the movies. She pointed out the hassle and cost of going to the movies and suggested we just wait a few weeks and watch them at home. That started me musing.
When a film is in the theaters, we go out to see a movie; but when it’s in our living room, we watch the movie?
A quick run through the good-old dictionary app provides some help. “See”, from the Old English “seon”, a cognate with the Old Dutch “zien”, means to perceive with the eyes, to view, or attend as a spectator. “Watch”, on the other hand, from the Middle English “wacchen”, means to be alertly on the lookout, look attentively, or observe. The derivation from the Old English doublet of “wacian” literally meant to stay awake, which may explain why I’m far more likely to doze off watching a movie on TV than when I’m seeing a movie in the theater.
It appears that seeing somehow focuses on what we do with our eyes, while watching seems to involve an intentionality. That’s why we say, “Did you see that bird?” meaning, did you catch a glimpse with your eyes? As opposed to the command, “Watch that bird!” which engages more intentionality on the part of the viewer. The little time-piece on our wrist connects to the old sense of the word “watch”, as in night-watchman, because it patiently stays awake, carefully watching the time so we don’t have to—think, “Can I see your watch?”
Seeing also seems to refer to the summary of the whole watching experience, as in, “Did you see the Grammys last night?” As opposed to watching, which refers to the experience in linear time, as in, “No, we did not watch them.” Seeing also pertains to a fullness of understanding in a way that watching does not, as in, “Did you see what I was talking about? No? Well then, watch it again!” This sense of seeing doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with our eyes, as in the Psalm, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34.8).
Of course, since this is the Minister’s Monday Musing, I feel obliged to tie this etymological cul-de-sac into something theological. I would suggest a spiritual connection between seeing and watching as a process of understanding. Every day we see the goodness of God in the world around us, but until we watch what’s going on, we don’t fully see what God is doing. We move from momentary glimpse to intentional gaze, to fuller understanding. Our temptation is to presume to comprehend from a quick glance without first doing the hard work of careful watching.
This may or may not lead to some expression of devotional understanding, but you can be confident of this—I’m pretty sure I’ll fall asleep watching the Oscars.
Keeping watch to help you see, I remain,