I've noticed there are a number of idioms for familiarity that refer to audio phenomena (e.g. "strikes a chord", "rings a bell", etc), but try as I might I can't think of any vision based phrases. It seems a bit strange to say something like "that picture rings a bell", so I wonder if there are any similar idioms that don't reference sound?

I looked up a list of the most common english idioms, and they all seem to be either sound related (e.g. "barking up the wrong tree"), or about a specific object or action (e.g. "take with a grain of salt", keywords: "take" and "salt"). None of them involved seeing or images.

Am I just bad at thinking of things, or does english really show an aversion to vision-based figures of speech? If so, what factors influence the types of idioms adopted?

And what (if any) is the visual alternative to "strikes a chord"?

  • 2
    Would you consider "touched a nerve" to be visual or tactile?
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 17:05
  • @SvenYargs tactile, because you "touch", of course - how would it be visual?
    – Benubird
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 8:44
  • Are you specifically looking for a visual "translation" of struck a chord, or just a list of vision-related idioms? The former is an interesting question, and it might be useful to highlight that part in your question; the latter is also interesting, but off-topic here (list questions aren't a great fit for the SE model). In re "touched a nerve": Presumably because when light "touches" the eye the visual information is transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 15:28

5 Answers 5


There is the idiom see the light meaning to gain an understanding of something. Per Wiktionary:

see the light

  1. (idiomatic, religious) To undergo a spiritual conversion.

    Once I was lost in darkness, but now I have seen the light.

  2. (idiomatic) To gain an understanding of something previously not understood, especially in a sudden insight.

    Finally, near the end of the meeting, John saw the light and withdrew his objections.

  3. (idiomatic) To come into the world or to public notice.

    His book never saw the light.

There is also sight for sore eyes which Wiktionary defines as:

sight for sore eyes (plural sights for sore eyes)

  1. (idiomatic) A pleasing sight; something that is beautiful to look at.

    When the fog lifted, the view of the glacier was a sight for sore eyes.

It is often used to describe something or someone you haven't seen in a long time that you're happy to see (e.g., Sally, it's been too long; you sure are a sight for sore eyes!) or some object that is especially pleasurable in light of recent experiences (e.g., after the slop they fed us in boot camp, the hamburger and fries was a sight for sore eyes.)

And that reminds me of another: in light of. Per Wiktionary:

in light of

  1. (idiomatic, Australia, Canada, US) given, considering

    In light of the frequent kidnappings in Iraq, do you suppose someone could invent a small tracking device that could be woven onto clothing and hard to find on it so that when someone gets kidnapped, the tracking devices could pin down their location?

There are also point of view (Wiktionary):

point of view (plural points of view)

  1. A position from which something is seen; outlook; standpoint.

    From an economist's point of view, business is all about money.

  2. An attitude, opinion, or set of beliefs.

    His point of view is that there is only one true religion.

  3. (literary theory) The perspective from which a narrative is related.

    The storyline in the film “The Usual Suspects” is presented from the point of view of an unreliable narrator.

bird's eye view (Wiktionary):

bird's-eye view (plural bird's-eye views)

  1. (idiomatic) The view from directly or high above.

    Looking down from the seventh floor balcony gave them a bird's-eye view of the street below.

  2. (by extension) A general overview or summary of a topic.

and hidden in plain sight (Wiktionary):

hidden in plain sight (not comparable)

  1. (idiomatic) Seemingly hidden, but actually not hidden and easy to find.

Obviously Anglophones have a lot of metaphoric usages relating to vision. They're so common we barely notice the metaphoric aspect of, say, Your plan looks like a bad idea to me. I don't see how it could ever work.

For idiomatic usages combining vision and "familiarity"...

[If] You've seen one, you've seen 'em all. (1430 written instances)
Been there, seen it, got the T-shirt. (84 instances)
He was a familiar sight in [the places he frequented]. (3580 instances)

...I particularly like this as an example of a "mixed metaphor" usage that would normally pass unnoticed by the average reader...

His critique was visionary and pioneering, and I see echoes of his writings in many of my subsequent papers.


easy on the eye TDF

Attractive. The phrase is more frequently seen as "easy on the eyes."

  • And beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 1:23

I personally like the verb "eyeball" as in, "Those sticks look a little long, you think he eyeballed the measurements?" The OED defines it as:

eyeball, v.

To make a visual inspection or assessment of; to measure by sight alone, without the use of an instrument or other guide; to estimate by eye.

You also have "I see what you did there." Per the OED:

(do you) see what I did there?, I see what you did there, and variants: used humorously and ironically to draw attention to a joke, pun, etc.

And lastly, "eye candy." Again from the OED:

eye candy n. colloq. something (originally a feature of a television programme) considered as conferring visual appeal, esp. if also thought to lack substance; (later also) an exceptionally attractive person


in focus 3. Fig. [of problems, solutions, appraisals of people or things] perceived or understood clearly. (*Typically: be ~; get [into] ~; get something [into] ~.) Now that things are in focus, I feel better about the world.

eagle eye a person who has sharp vision or who maintains a keen watchfulness; alert watchfullness

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