Folk Saying

“Oh, I see, I see says the blind man.”

“As he picked up his hammer and saw.”

Jessyka told me that she learned this saying from her father at her home in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She could not remember any exact time when she first heard it, because her father, from Louisiana, has been saying it to her all of her life. When Jessyka was first learning the saying, her father would say both lines together, but as Jesskya heard it more and more, her father would say the first sentence and she would respond with “as he picked up his hammer and saw.” When Jesskya uses it now, she just says the first sentence, and hopes that whomever she is talking with responds with the second sentence.

I have heard Jessyka use this saying many times in informal settings when surrounded by peers. She will generally say it after the group has been laughing about some minor miscommunication or after something potentially confusing is explained. She claims that it is a “term of understanding” that she uses to let other speakers know that she understood what had been said, especially in situations where it seemed like there was confusion. Jessyka, like her father, will usually only say the first line of the saying, and hope that someone else will respond. When I asked her if she ever uses it with professors, employers, or anyone else with authority, she responded, “I hope not!” She had similar sentiments about using the saying in a formal setting.

Jessyka gave two explanations for using the saying: one, it builds ties and two, it connects her with an older time. When another person does not respond with the second half of the saying, the saying doesn’t lose its meaning as a “term of understanding,” but Jessyka is momentarily disappointed. She sees using the phrase as way of connecting to people through realizing that she and the respondent “know someone, you know, from the same part of the country.” Using the saying allows for recognition of similarity and builds a sense of familiarity between the original speaker and the respondent.

Since Jessyka’s father is from Louisiana, Jesskya assumes that the saying originated in the South. This point of origin combined with the word play of “see,” meaning both to understand and to see something physically, makes Jessyka believe that the saying was born in “the Jazz Era.” When she performs the saying, she feels connected to “old souls.” She also suggested that this saying is usually passed from parents to their children. Thus, she feels connected with an older time by using the saying.

While I agree with Jessyka that using this saying can create a sense of familiarity and connection between the performer and the respondent, I hesitate to agree that others would use this saying to connect themselves with the past. Although Jessyka’s hypothesis that the saying originated in the South during the “Jazz era” is logical, it is merely a conjecture. Jessyka learnt this folk saying from her father and believes that most people learn the saying from their parents. She uses these circumstantial pieces of evidence to draw her conclusion that, in general, people associate the saying with old times in the past.

Instead, the saying seems to me to be more about exploring the English language. Jessyka learnt the phrase at a young age, right when she was starting to get used to the idea that one word can have multiple meanings. Additionally, her father introduced the saying to her slowly, saying both parts of the phrase until Jessyka clearly understood the linguistic implications of the verb “to see.” Jesskya assumes that children learn this phrase from their parents, and while this may often be the case because parents often teach their children about language, it is not always the case. Personally, I learnt this saying from my peers at a young age. Once my peers and I understood the word play, we found the saying humorous and felt a sense of camaraderie around our mutual understanding and knowledge.  Additionally, a similar phrase can be found in the poem One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night, recorded by the British Columbia Folklore Society. This collection places the poem under the classification of “Ballads of Impossibilities” and explains the saying as an example of word play. In this collection, they provide a few different variations of “I see, I see said the blind man,” but the one included as part of the complete poem is “ask the blind man, he saw it too!” The other lines in the poem include other impossibilities, such as “a deaf policeman heard the noise.” This poem, generally told to children, tests listeners’ understanding of English through contradictions, just like “I see, I see said the blind man” does. Lastly, it debunks Jessyka’s hypothesis that the saying originated in the American South. Jessyka’s saying then, viewed in relation to the variation recorded by the British Columbia Folklore Society, appears to reflect a linguistic exploration of word play and the double meaning of words. The context she learned in it and repeats it in suggests that the saying creates a camaraderie based on shared knowledge.


The British Columbia Folklore Society

Mike Ballantye 2004. One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night., accessed April 28, 2011.