Hindsight is 20/20


Looking back at a situation or event that occurred and having a clearer understanding of it and how it could have been done better.

Example: Tim went to the grocery store because he was low on food. He spent nearly an hour shopping before he realized that he had forgotten his wallet. Having no way to pay for anything, Tim was greatly frustrated since he had wasted his time. He wished that he would’ve checked for his wallet before leaving the house, but he recognized that hindsight is 20/20.

Synonyms / Related Sayings:
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, anyways? It basically 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’s used to measure one’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 this person’s acuity is worse, because the letters they see clearly at a distance of 20 feet, a person with normal acuity can see those same letters with just as much clarity at a distance of 40 feet.

The point is that someone with 20/20 vision has good eye sight; they see things clearly. So with this expression, what’s being said is that if you look back at situations that went poorly, you can clearly see (thus, 20/20) what could have been done better.

Alright, hopefully that was explained halfway decently. Anyways, the eye chart that is called the ‘Snellen chart’ was published in the year 1862. As mentioned, it was used to measure a person’s vision acuity (though many ophthalmologists now use an improved version of this chart). Hence, I think it’s safe to assume that this saying originated sometime after the year 1862.

Interestingly, the first use of the phrase in print (that I could find) comes from a newspaper called The Canberra Times, 1986. To give some context, chess moves are being discussed and there’s a line that reads: 

“Hindsight is always 20-20, but anyway bxc6 is better.”

Example Sentences

  • I have a bad stomach ache. Now, hindsight is obviously 20/20, but I really should not have eaten all that pizza for lunch.

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