Difference Between Oversee and Overlook
‘Oversee’ and ‘overlook’ can look similar if you know the components of the words. ‘See’ and ‘look’ are both terms for viewing something. The two words did mean similar things at their creations, but they gradually grew apart.
‘Oversee’ was formed from the words ‘over’ and ‘see’ and ‘overlook’ is formed from ‘over’ and ‘look’. ‘Over’ is a word that, literally speaking, means ‘above’ or ‘higher than’. Figuratively, it can also mean ‘superior’ in the sense of ‘more important’, ‘excessive’, or ‘covering’.
‘See’ has a number of meanings, but the one that fits the best is the definition of ‘to perceive with the eyes’. The two words put together mean someone who is above or more important observing something that is under or less important than them. This is most often used to mean managing a process or other people.
‘Look’ has a slightly different meaning. It is a more active word than ‘see’ since it implies the person is trying to see something instead of merely taking in the view. Once again, the two words put together can be used to mean someone who is above or superior watching what is beneath them. However, this meaning is not used as often because of the other meanings the word has. As a noun, it can mean a place that is higher than the land around it or a place that would be great for looking out over the surrounding landscape, especially if the view is beautiful. For instance, a hill in the middle of a green, flowering valley would be an overlook. As a verb, it can mean to use an overlook to see the area.
Additionally, ‘overlook’ can be used to mean not to see something. This can be deliberately, such as when someone is trying to ignore a mistake in the hopes that it will go away or be taken care of. The accidental overlook is usually when someone just doesn’t see something even if they want to.
There are a few similar words. ‘Supervise’ comes from a similar etymology as ‘oversee’ and ‘overlook’. ‘Super’ is the Latin word for ‘over’ or to be on top of something. ‘Vise’ is a form of the Latin word ‘videre’, which is a form of ‘video’, or ‘to see’. This word also means to manage, direct, or just to be in charge of processes or other people. It has no other meanings.
There is also the word ‘overwatch’, over added to watch. ‘Watch’, as a verb, means to look at something for a long period of time or to guard it. ‘Overwatch’ is essentially to watch over something, as in to be stationed to keep an eye on it. This does not have any connotations of being in charge or managing anything. In the military, it can also mean when one unit guards another while that unit is firing.
Finally, we have the word ‘oversight’, which is a noun. Once again, it is ‘over’ added to ‘sight’, which is the act of seeing. There are two meanings for this word. The first is to manage a group of people. Secondly, it means a mistake made while watching, whether it is deliberate or not.
To summarize, there are many words that are formed from a combination of ‘over’ and a word that refers to vision. To oversee is to manage a group of other people or of processes. Overlook means a place to look for a great view, looking out from a high point, or to not see something you are supposed to be looking for. ‘Supervise’ is specifically to manage people. ‘Overwatch’ is to keep guard over something. Finally, ‘oversight’ means to either manage a group of people or to miss something that you should have seen or chose to dismiss.
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