Is there a word or phrase when you think you see a person, look away, then look back and the person is gone?

For example, I thought I saw my friend as I walked into a cafe. I looked at my phone, looked back up and he wasn't there. The table was empty, like there had been no one sitting at it.

I asked a coworker if he knew of a word or phrase and he told of a similar situation; he walked in the front door of his home, saw his roommate in the living room, turned right to walk into the kitchen and his roommate was in the kitchen.

He called this phenomenon "A glitch in the Matrix" or seeing a doppelgänger.

I don't think doppelgänger is the correct term, though.

Is there a better phrase or word to describe these mirages or phantoms we're seeing?

  • hallucination? Does it have to always describe when you think you see something but nothing is there?
    – Hank
    Jun 22, 2017 at 14:03
  • @Hank Yes. I think I see something, but as soon as I look away then back it's gone. So, the object I'm seeing was never there to being with Jun 22, 2017 at 14:23
  • In that case, I think hallucination would fit, although it does usually carry a connotation of being caused by a mental illness or drugs.
    – Hank
    Jun 22, 2017 at 14:26
  • @Hank Yeah, that's why I was hoping there was a word that would denote we are NOT mentally unstable, like de ja vu (but that's not the correct phrase) Jun 22, 2017 at 14:28
  • "apparition" is another word for a ghostlike or unexplained image -- not necessarily a fleeting 'now you see it, now you don't" vision though
    – Tom22
    Jun 22, 2017 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


Glimpse -- Cambridge

(noun) a brief look at someone or something:
He caught a glimpse of her face.

(verb) I glimpsed her walking back from town.

  • 3
    Good choice; "fleeting glimpse" is also often used, especially in mystery or detective fiction! Jun 22, 2017 at 15:21
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    @NVZ "As I glimpsed around the room I saw a fleeting apparition of Bob". That is exactly what happened! But somehow, "I thought I saw Bob at the cafe, but it was glitch in the Matrix" sounds cooler :-D Jun 22, 2017 at 15:47
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    @EnglishStudent - You’re in good company When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse, Out of the corner of my eye, I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now, The child is grown, The dream is gone
    – Jim
    Jun 22, 2017 at 16:18
  • @Jim thanks for the link! I have been reading so much English for the last 33 years since age 4 that I am continually struck by remembered word associations and combinations. You tell me glimpse, I tell you fleeting! The verses you quoted are very evocative. Jun 22, 2017 at 16:28
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    @KearneyTaaffe Can one 'glimpse around'? As a verb, glimpse means 'To get a glimpse of' (per Chambers phone App), it's an instantaneous rather than continuous thing.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 22, 2017 at 16:44

abscond [ab-skond]/ verb (used without object)

  1. to depart in a sudden and secret manner, especially to avoid capture and legal prosecution.

If you think that the person was actually there and left swiftly.


"He vanished into thin air" is an idiom that describes someone disappearing without notice. The opposite "appeared out of thin air" also works as the opposite, although it's used slightly less.

As per discussion below, apparition works in this scenario as a noun for the person who vanishes.

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    Is there a noun that can be used? I want to use it in a sentence like, "I saw an [insert appropriate noun] of Bob yesterday" Jun 22, 2017 at 14:25
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    @KearneyTaaffe ah, I think apparition would work then.
    – wrymug
    Jun 22, 2017 at 14:48
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    I guess "fleeting apparition" would be the best phrase :-) Jun 22, 2017 at 14:58
  • 1
    @rosslh Apparition, excellent! Jun 22, 2017 at 15:18

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