I love it when, on the TV show The Mentalist, someone will accuse Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) of being a psychic. He does a slow boil, and then proclaims “There is no such thing as a psychic. I just listen carefully.”
Having spent his early career as a charlatan, pretending to read peoples’ minds on stage, he knows that it’s all an act…a carefully scripted act.
People seem to expect that there are people who have the gift of being able to see things that are not visible, and to know things that are hidden, and to hear voices of those who have died. They believe that they have encountered a clairvoyant. Somehow, these gifted people have the ability to see “beyond the range of normal vision.”
The word clairvoyant is French in origin, being a portmanteau of the two words clair ( clearly) and voyant (to see.) It doesn’t take an advanced degree to see that this combination makes a word that means to see clearly. While at one point in history it meant one thing, it has come to bean another other.
Clairvoyant literally means “clear-sighted” in French, and for nearly 200 years that is what it meant in English as well. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it took on the meaning of “having psychic gifts” or “seeing beyond” that it carries today.” (Wikipedia)
Given its original meaning, a person with keen abilities to see the “bigger picture” or “see outside the box” might have been designated a clairvoyant. It would be a compliment, especially in today’s busy world of technology and planning. But for the most part, a clairvoyant is a psychic, and to most people that is not a complimentary term.