What does ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ mean to me? 🤔

Explaining a phrase


July 30, 2023

What does “I’ll know it when I see it” mean to me? Well, I think it is a good overarching phrase that can get at the desire for clarity and seeing something for yourself. It doesn’t have to be visual in nature, but it should be apparent and not hidden.

I was curious to learn that this phrase originally gained prominence from a supreme court ruling in which a justice mentioned it regarding a case pertaining to a threshold test for obscenity. [1, 2] For me, it’s meaning extends beyond the grading of the profane.

I have been using it on the front of my website for a while and I take it to mean a desire for seeing something work for myself. This gets at another desire to create things: to build something and know it inside and out, to know how something works.

As a state of mind, I like the pursuit of knowledge, but it helps to see what’s going on. It definitely guides my approach to learning: I will comprehend something (know it) once I can observe it (see it).

It doesn’t have to be visual. It’s more about being written down, explained well, taking care to make something clear.

Image Credit

brainstorm by Zach Bogart from the Noun Project