I have another question about the verb "see". According to dictionaries, "see" loosely means "become/be aware of something by using the eyes". Yet, on the web, I found sentences along the lines of this:

Security cameras saw the suspects breaking into the building.

Cameras don't have eyes. So, could this be technical jargon or journalistic usage?

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    I would say neither; it's poor style. Security cameras recorded the suspects breaking into the building. We saw the security camera video of the suspects breaking into the building. – CoolHandLouis Jan 26 '15 at 6:54

Security cameras do have eyes.

An eye is an apparatus with optional shutters, a pupil, optional lenses, a focal length, a light-sensitive material, and optional computing power to determine whether something has been seen. A human eye (indeed any vertebrate eye), an octopus or squid eye, and an arthropod eye all have these features. A security camera has these features, and is a kind of "electric eye".


I don't know if you'll find this sense of see in dictionaries. It's a natural extension of the core meaning of the word, the one you correctly defined.

Security cameras are inanimate objects, they don't have eyes, and they don't become aware of things. But the speaker needs some verb to say that images of the suspects breaking into the building were projected onto the back of the security camera, registering in some storage medium like film or a digital image. Just thinking of that last sentence was too much work! It would be way too much trouble to talk like that. So, the speaker bends the nearest existing word to carry the intended meaning, and that nearest word is see.

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    To add to this, the technique is called anthropomorphism. It's generally considered poor style when used like this. In general, sentences prefer to be written without anthropomorphism. – CoolHandLouis Jan 26 '15 at 5:59
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    @CoolHandLouis I have a philosopher friend who insists that the electrical currents in nerves can't be "signals" because signaling implies a human signaler. He takes "a nerve ending in the skin signals pain to the brain" as anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism can be sloppy, but I don't think these usages necessarily anthropomorphize neurons or security cameras. Anyway, thanks. I'll "see" if I can think of a way to add a note about anthropomorphism without causing too much confusion. (Or maybe now you have an idea for a better answer of your own.) – Ben Kovitz Jan 26 '15 at 6:15

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