Q: Can you please assist me and my wife with the difference between “envision” and “envisage”? In what context would we use each word?
A: These are similar but not identical words.
To “envisage,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) is “to view or regard in a certain way (envisages the slum as a hotbed of crime)” or “to have a mental picture of especially in advance of realization (envisages an entirely new system of education).”
But to “envision” is “to picture to oneself (envisions a career dedicated to promoting peace).”
These two words obviously overlap. You might “envisage” as well as “envision” a future career. But originally, one word meant facing or confronting something, while the other meant visualizing it.
“Envisage” is derived from “visage,” a word that entered English in the 1300s as both a noun for a face and a verb meaning to face.
In the 14th century, to “visage” meant to confront as well as face something. In its original meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, to “envisage” was “to look in the face of; fig. to face (danger, etc.); to look straight at.”
Later, the OED says, “envisage” took on the meaning of “to obtain a mental view of, set before the mind’s eye; to contemplate; chiefly, to view or regard under a particular aspect.”
“Envision” is derived from the noun “vision,” meaning sight (or foresight), which entered English in about 1290.
Beginning in the late 16th century, there was a verb as well: to “vision” was to picture or call up a vision of something.
And, as George Herbert Walker Bush might put it, that’s all I have to say now about the vision thing.