When you’re talking to someone, usually someone who represents a company, they might end your conversation with “We look forward to seeing you”.
This is a common way to end things politely.
By saying this, they are implying that they’re excited because they know they’ll be seeing you in the not-so-distant future.
In this article, I want to get into what it means and what it really means. I want to know why we say “look forward” when we’re not talking about directions. And I want to know, does this phrase really mean anything or is it just an example of phatic language?
What does it mean?
Let’s kick things off by talking about the phrase “look forward”.
If I were to ask you to look forward, I would imagine that you would keep your neck straight, and be looking at whatever is in front of you. Because “forward” is a direction.
However, when you say this to end a conversation, you’re not saying that you’ll be looking straight ahead.
“Look forward” is an excellent example of metaphorical language- saying something different to what you literally mean.
When you say “look forward”, you’re not talking about a direction in space, but rather a direction in time. You’re excited about something which will happen in the future, something which is forward in time.
Look vs looking
One phrase that sounds similar to “look forward” is “looking forward”. On the surface, it might seem like these are just two different ways of saying the same thing, but actually, the implications behind them are quite different.
Of course, both are written in the present tense, as they are referring to someone’s current state of mind. But the present tense has two main categories.
“Look Forward” is written in the simple present. It’s a way of conveying general truths. For example, “I speak French” is not saying that I’m speaking French right now, just that I know how to.
“Looking forward” is in the present continuous, it’s talking about what’s happening at this exact moment.
If “looking forward” is talking about what’s happening right now, and “look forward” is just a general statement, surely it would make more sense to say “we are looking forward to seeing you”?
Here is how to figure out which one you should use.
If this person is someone you see at regular intervals, say “we look forward”. For example, “We look forward to seeing you at Christmas, it’s the only time we meet these days”.
If however, your meeting will be a one-off, just say “looking forward”. This is what you would say to most customers.
“Look forward” is an interesting phrase. But where did it come from?
As you may have already figured out, “look forward” is made of two different words, look and forward.
Look comes from the Old English Locian- to use the eyes for gazing.
Forward comes from the Old English: Forewearde- to the front.
In the 1600s, it came to mean “anticipate”, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that it came to mean to anticipate with pleasure.
If I were to ask you to define “seeing”, you would probably tell me something along the lines of “to see is to look at something, to have it in your vision”.
But when you tell someone that you look forward to “seeing” them, you’re not saying that you merely want to look at them.
In this context, “seeing” means having a conversation face to face.
Of course, when you talk to someone, you will want to be looking at them, but by saying “seeing” instead of “meeting” or “talking to” it kind of sounds like you just want to stare at them.
But you don’t.
This makes such a phrase another excellent example of metaphorical language
Within our fantastic language, it’s rare for there to be one single phrase to get one point across. There are plenty of other ways of saying “We look forward to seeing you”.
“We can’t wait to see you”. This implies that your excitement at seeing this person is so big that you’re struggling to wait until you’re next able to see them.
“Longing to see you again”. Maybe not useful in a professional context, but great if talking to a romantic partner.
“Hope to see you soon”. Ideal for casual conversations, such as the ones you might have with friends or family.
“We look forward to seeing you” is littered with metaphorical language. This is one of the few phrases where you have two metaphors right next to each other.
“Look forward” isn’t talking about a physical direction, but rather, a direction of time. And “seeing you” isn’t just talking about looking but talking to.
Metaphors are an effective way of portraying information without saying what you mean, but still having everyone know what you mean.
One criticism from a social (rather than literature) perspective is that it comes across as artificial and potentially cheesy and insincere.
When you read this title of this article, I’m guessing there is at least a small chance that you imagined someone with shiny white teeth, and perfectly combed hair saying it.
Think about it, if someone said this to you, would you be thinking that they’ll put you in their dairy and get excited about it?
Obviously not. It’s just something that people do so that they sound more polite that they really want to be.
“We look forward to seeing you” means that we’re excited about meeting you in the future.
But when we look into it, this phrase is a complete mess.
First of all, you’re not “looking” anywhere, and you won’t be just “seeing” them. It uses simple present tense even though it’s in a present continuous context. It didn’t even mean what it means today until the 1800s. And it’s super cheesy, and most people who say it clearly don’t mean it.
But the strangest thing about it is that even though it makes no sense, we still understand what people mean whenever they say it.