Hindsight is 20/20


The phrase hindsight is 20/20 means looking back at a situation or an event and having a clearer understanding of it and how things could have been done better.

Example: Tim went to the grocery store and spent nearly an hour shopping before realizing he forgot his wallet. Now he had no way to pay for his food! Hindsight is 20/20, but he wishes he would have double-checked beforehand for his wallet after leaving the house.

1. Looking back

An eye chart measuring for 20/20 sight.

‘Hindsight is 20/20’ Origin

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, but what do those numbers mean anyway? Basically, it refers to the normal visual acuity of a person, the sharpness or clarity of their eyesight. Let me elaborate by giving an example:

A ‘Snellen chart’ is an eye chart that measures a person’s visual acuity. Somebody with 20/20 vision has normal acuity, meaning if they were to stand at a distance of 20 feet from the eye chart, then they would be able to clearly see each row of letters.

So what happens if instead the person has 20/40 vision? Well now the person’s acuity is worse, so the letters they see clearly at a distance of 20 feet, someone with normal acuity can see those same letters with just as much clarity at a distance of 40 feet.

Anyway, the point is that someone with 20/20 vision has good eye sight; they see things clearly. With that in mind, this expression is saying that when we look back at situations that went poorly, we can clearly see (hence 20/20) what could’ve been done better.

Alright, so how old is this phrase? The ‘Snellen chart’ was published in 1862, so it probably originated sometime after that year. The first use of the phrase in print (that I could find) comes from a newspaper called The Van Nuys News, February 1949. There is a part in it that reads: 

“Most people’s hindsight is 20 20.”

Example Sentences

  • I have a bad stomach ache and I know why. Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but I really should not have eaten all that pizza for breakfast.

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