I've been reading through some questions trying to understand the usage of "Look, ..." before sharing important information. I have discovered this word placement can be considered an interjection or attention getter.

In my experience, when I say or hear something prefaced by "Look," it is intended to convey the listener needs focus on or bring their attention to what is said next.

I have been reflecting on this usage and was curious on the etymology or origin of using "Look" to mean "listen" or pay attention. I wonder if this may have originated from in person conversations as a means to have people make eye contact or literally "look" at the speaker.

My spouse was curious if I spoke this way because I was raised in the Southern U.S.; however, I have noticed this usage in Spanish language as well.

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    In my experience, "Look" at the beginning of a statement, followed by a pause, is a preface to a frank remark. It says the speaker is going to give it to you straight, no beating around the bush.
    – Robusto
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 21:48
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    Worth noting that we also say "look" when we really do want the person to look, as in, "Look! There's an owl in the tree". And we also sometimes say "listen" in the situations described in the question, as in, "Listen, I wanted to tell you..."
    – Juhasz
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 21:54
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    'Mira' and 'look' also mean see as in understand. Do you see it – do you get it? Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 21:57
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    Look means to see and take it in (=face it), just as listen means to hear and take it in (=hearken or obey). Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 22:11
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    It's also common to say listen. Sometimes one says listen here or see here. They all mean pay attention. They may call attention to something you are presenting on a blackboard as well as to spoken words. Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 0:24

1 Answer 1


Look (and listen) can be used to mean pay attention in its idiomatic usage.

This specific usage has been documented for thousands of years by the OED.

As commenters have pointed out, look [Oxford Learner's Dictionaries] has multiple meanings:

Look - to use your eyes; search; pay attention; appear/seem; face

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    Yes. I'd judge that look in "Now look here, young man! ...!" (also suggested by your OED reference) is even more fully semantically bleached. Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 17:08

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