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The meaning and origin of the expression: Out of sight, out of mind

Out of sight, out of mind

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'Out of sight, out of mind'?

The idea that something is easily forgotten or dismissed as unimportant if it is not in our direct view.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Out of sight, out of mind'?

The use of 'in mind' for 'remembered' and 'out of mind' for 'forgotten' date back to the at least the 13th century. The earliest printed citation of a link with memory and the sight of something is in John Heywood's A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

"Out of sight out of minde."

The phrase is used as an example of the supposed comic results that early computer translation and speech recognition programmes came up with. The phrase 'out of sight, out of mind' was supposed to have been translated by a computer as 'invisible idiot', 'blind and insane' etc. This is on a par with 'computers can wreck a nice peach' (computers can recognise speech), which is also used as an example of how computers lack the general knowledge to compare with humans at speech recognition.

These reports lack consistency and are too neat to be anything other than inventions. There's no evidence to support the stories but they do illustrate that although 'anyone can make a mistake, but to really foul things up you need a computer'. Even using more recent (2007) programs to translate 'out of sight, out of mind' into Russian and then back to English the best they could do was 'from the sighting, from the reason'.

19th century writers must have thought that 'out of sight, out of mind' lacked something as a proverb and went to the trouble of coining its exact opposite - 'absence makes the heart grow stronger'.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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