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Etymologically, per Wikipedia, from which I excerpt the following but whose links I omit:

Viz. is an abbreviation of videlicet, which itself is a contraction from Latin of videre licet meaning "it is permitted to see"

A similar expression is scilicet, abbreviated as sc., which is Latin for "it is permitted to know".

Why would a reader need licence (etymologically from licet) to know and see?

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Neither the Oxford Latin Dictionary nor Lewis & Short mention it, but I believe licet can also sometimes mean "it is possible". I distinctly remember seeing it used that way, although I have no proof.

This shouldn't be surprising, because notions of "desirable" and "possible", the two kinds of modality, are often intertwined; a word that means "desirable" can easily acquire a sense of "possible" and vice versa.

Then videre licet would mean "it is possible [for you] to see...", and scire licet "it is possible [for you] to know...". That would make sense in a sentence like this:

Multae feminae magnae sunt in orbi terrarum; sci[re ]licet Cleopatra(m).

"There are many great women in the world; you may know Cleopatra".

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"It is permitted to know" and "it is permitted to see," while literally correct translations of the two words in question, aren't actually what they mean.

"Latin commitment-markers: scilicet and videlicet," by Josine Schrickx, has a very detailed account of the similarities and differences between the two words, the gist of which is that scilicet means something like "of course" or "naturally" or "obviously," indicating that the speaker takes it as a given that the listener will agree with what s/he is saying, while videlicet means something like "evidently" or "apparently" or "it seems," indicating that, while what the speaker is saying is supported by the evidence, s/he is unwilling to commit to it as true.

Scilicet and videlicet are both evidential commitment-markers – the commitment is based on evidence – and have a comparable origin (from a form of scire / vidēre and licet). As we have seen, however, there are important differences: scilicet indicates that the evidence is based on expectation (‘as is to be expected’, ‘of course’) and is strongly directed towards the addressee, videlicet indicates that the evidence is inferable from the context or reasoning (‘clearly’) and is not directed towards the addressee. The differences are shown by the different contexts in which they occur: scilicet often appears with a verb in the first person, videlicet rarely so and if so then only when used ironically; scilicet can be used in ‘bases’ and contrasts, videlicet cannot; scilicet can be combined with a future form of the verb in the second person, to mitigate an appeal to the addressee, videlicet cannot; videlicet is rarely used with a future verb form of any kind; scilicet can be used independently as a reaction, videlicet cannot (or at any rate is not so used in our material). Both adverbials can be used ironically, in which case they are not strictly speaking commitment-markers. The speaker uses scilicet to appeal to the addressee and to show solidarity with him; it can be used for ‘positive politeness’. Videlicet cannot be used for these purposes; with this marker speakers show that they have good evidence for what they are saying and do not need to appeal to the addressee for support or confirmation of the common ground.

Note that this article (and my answer) deal with how the words are used in Classical Latin. It's possible that their use shifted in later Latin and/or in English, but if that's so, I suspect it's a matter for a different question.

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  • Perhaps it should be mentioned that the article concerns only classical Latin. The meanings may have shifted over the post-classical centuries towards what they mean in today's English. It is not clear how much of the shift happened in English (and in borrowing to English) and how much in Latin. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 2 '16 at 14:14
  • Do you think it would be an oversimplification to say that scilicet assumed shared thoughts and videlicet shared observations? This simple description of the difference fits the difference between scire and videre, but I wonder if it is too coarse. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 2 '16 at 14:16
  • @JoonasIlmavirta I've made the wise edit you suggest. I don't think your shared thoughts/observations distinction is oversimplified, though I might change "thoughts" to "opinions." (I haven't thought through it extensively, though, so I might not.) I'd also add an overarching theme for both words of shared level of commitment to truth: scilicet makes a greater commitment than videlicet. – Joel Derfner Jul 2 '16 at 15:04
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I would translate "licet" as "able" (in the sense of being allowed).

So scilicet would translate as something that was "knowable," or in plain English, "self-evident."

Videlicet would translate into "seeable," that is you can "see it that way." (But the connotation is "maybe you can see it another way," so it is weaker than scilicet.)

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    I'm afraid that is not how either word is used; nor should they be translated that way. Furthermore, 'licet' (qua 3rd person, present, active indicative, and impersonal) means 'it is permitted; it is allowed; one may; lawful' and so on. Thus, one is 'able' only in the sense of being allowed ('one may'), not in the sense of ability ('one can'). – jon Jul 10 '16 at 18:17
  • @jon: I added a qualifier to "able" to make the sense "allowed." I stand by the rest of my post. – Tom Au Jul 10 '16 at 20:03
  • It still doesn't work. Consider, e.g., Cicero, de finibus 2.31: 'si stante, hoc natura videlicet vult, salvam esse se, quod concedimus'. How would videlicet work here as 'seeable'? It is clearly a commitment marker as described by Joel above: 'if static, then, clearly [seeable?], nature wishes this -- to preserve itself --, which we grant'. It is not merely 'able to be seen', it is dead-obvious. – jon Jul 10 '16 at 20:16
  • @According to Joel's answer above, if it's "dead obvious," it's scilicet." On the other hand videlicit means: "I am allowed to see it this way, (it's not crazy), but you are allowed to see it another way. – Tom Au Jul 10 '16 at 20:23
  • For scilicet: Cicero, de finibus 1.28: 'nunc dicam de voluptate, nihil scilicet novi, ea tamen, quae te ipsum probaturum esse confidam'. I would not use 'knowable' or 'self-evident', but translate: 'Now I shall speak about pleasure -- certainly nothing new --, but I am confident that they will be something you yourself will agree with.' – jon Jul 10 '16 at 20:28

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