The Grammarphobia Blog

Seeing is believing

Q: Why do radio hosts, when finishing a show, say, “We’ll see you tomorrow,” when it’s physically impossible? A better signoff: “Until tomorrow (or next time), goodbye.”

A: You’re right that “We’ll see you tomorrow” can’t be literally correct as a radio signoff. But I think many people consider “we’ll see you” an idiomatic expression meaning something like “we’ll be back” or “we’ll be in touch” or “we’ll be with you.”

In case you’re interested, there are many long-established non-literal uses of “see.” I’ll mention just a few.

We often say “I see” when we mean “I understand”; this use of “see” in the sense of perceiving intellectually dates back to the year 1200, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

To “see” that something is done means to make sure it’s done. This sense of the word dates back to 1300, according to the OED.

To “see” someone’s bet (say, in a game of cards) is to match it. This usage dates from 1599.

“Let me see” or “let us see” (in an attempt to recall something to memory) is a usage dating from 1520.

The OED says the 19th-century expression “see you” (and variations like “see you soon” and “see you around”) is a “colloquial formula of farewell,” and is often used “without reference to an anticipated meeting,” much in the way the French say au revoir and the Germans auf Wiedersehen.

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