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Today’s “On Language” column in The New York Times addresses the rise of the prefix “un” in the time of increased computer use and social networking.

A word unmentioned in the article, but which I’m growing to love, is “unsee“. It’s a strange word, because, as the phrase goes, once you’ve seen something, you can’t unsee it (I think I was introduced to this unfortunate reality when someone showed me tubgirl. Which I will not link to. As I don’t want you to see it, much less vainly try to unsee it.)

A different use of “unsee” comes in China Mieville’s latest novel The City and The City, set in a geography where two cities literally overlap and integrate in space, and residents of one are raised from birth to “unsee” what goes on in the other. It’s a concept that appears bizarre at first, until you realize, as a city-dweller, just how much you unsee of what’s around you (homelessness, squalor, nefarious activity).

  1. The late Swedish communications scholar Jan Ekecrantz liked to talk of the “black flashlight” shined by the media wherever it wanted to make an inconvenient truth disappear. It’s actually quite easy to unsee things when sufficient mediators bend the light of meaning in just the right way, which our media are so professionally good at.

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