‘to go to Specsavers’: meaning and origin

Specsavers logo:

Specsavers logo 

The colloquial British- and Irish-English phrase to go to Specsavers is used of someone who makes a mistake because of poor eyesight.

This phrase refers to the British multinational optical retail chain Specsavers Optical Group Ltd—in particular to its advertising slogan, should’ve gone to Specsavers. The following explanations are from Brand Insight: Specsavers, an undated interview by Laura Swinton of Graham Daldry, Specsavers Creative Director, published in Little Black Book:

LBB> ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’—it’s a line that keeps on giving! What was the original genesis of that line? Was it a flash of inspiration or quite a long process?
GD> I came up with the line in 2002. We had been looking for a new line for a couple of years and I was on the look out for something with an angle that would drive great creative ideas. We had used ‘Need glasses?’ which produced good scripts in a very similar way, but could have belonged to any brand. In the end ‘Should’ve’ was a combination of chance and inspiration like a lot of these things. But I knew right from the beginning that it could produce a lot of ideas—and it ‘owns’ the optical market.

The slogan should’ve gone to Specsavers has been popularised by the company’s television advertisements; each of these advertisements features a character who makes a gaffe because of defective vision.

For example, the following advertisement features a shepherd on a hillside sheering sheep, who accidentally sheers his sheepdog in the process; the advertisement ends with the tag line should’ve gone to Specsavers:

 

The earliest occurrence of the phrase to go to Specsavers that I have found is from Nostie’s doomsday prophecies are as credible as a Haughey 1 IOU, an article about the French astrologer and physician Nostradamus (Michel de Nostredame – 1503-1566)—in this article, published in the Sunday World (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Sunday 8th August 1999, the historian and journalist Des Ekin puns on two meanings of vision: the faculty of being able to see and a mental image of the future:

I have in front of me a 1991 book called “Nostradamus: The End Of The Millennium” by V. J. Hewitt and Peter Lorie.
These were its main predictions for the Nineties (and I swear I’m not making any of this up):
1992. George Bush re-elected.
1992. Tom Cruise takes major role in politics.
1993. Coronation of King Charles of England.
1993. San Diego disappears into the sea after giant earthquake; Hollywood film studios totally destroyed; Californian residents flee to Nevada; all of USA burns up in forest fires.
1993. Cancer cured.
1995. Israel defeated and destroyed by the Arabs.
1996. Margaret Thatcher re-elected Tory leader.
1997. Spacecraft crashes on America.
1998. Aliens appear on TV.
1998. Scientists conquer ageing process.
As you can see, he got it just a bit wrong. In fact, so wrong that if he’d lived today instead of the 16th Century, he’d have been urged to go to Specsavers to get his visions tested.

1 The Fianna Fáil politician Charles James Haughey (1925-2006), who served as Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland) from 1979 to 1981, from March 1982 to December 1982, and from 1987 to 1992, was accused of corruption, embezzlement and tax evasion.

The phrase then occurs in an article about the Munster Gaelic-Football Championship final between Kerry and Limerick, published in The Kerryman (Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland) of Thursday 15th July 2004:

‘You can’t win a match without a midfield’—Kerry fan
By Donal Nolan

There was a considerable measure of disgruntlement all around after Sunday’s Munster Final. Much of it directed, unsurprisingly, at Roscommon referee Gerry Kinneavy. […]
[…]
Andrian Kirby, Press Officer for Listowel Emmets, was somewhat aggrieved with the referee’s behaviour: “The referee was very disappointing, as were Kerry—I was very disappointed with them on the whole.”
[…]
Andrew O’Leary from Kenmare was a little worried about the referee’s health in the aftermath.
“He should have gone to Specsavers!,” he quipped, adding that “the match was a bit boring, to be honest.”

The following is from Your View, published in the Evening Herald (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Monday 4th October 2004:

Out of sight
The Dublin man who had not visited the centre of the city for a long time (Your View, September 30) and now thinks O’Connell Street looks wonderful should go to Specsavers.
W. Keenan, Dublin 12

The following shows that the advertising slogan has been integrated into the lexicon; it is from How Dominic Cummings helped Specsavers, but Specsavers really helped themselves, by Louise Fraser, published in connective3 on 1st June 2020:
—Context: The British political strategist Dominic Cummings (born 1971), who was then serving as Chief Adviser to Boris Johnson 2, travelled to his parents’ farm in Durham during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown:

On Sunday the 24th of May, Dominic Cummings held a press conference to address the public outrage of his alleged breaking of the COVID-19 government lockdown rules.
When asked why he drove to Barnard Castle in Durham, he said he did so to test his eyesight before the drive back to London. This sparked outrage and ridicule across social channels, and plenty of memes were made. One of the main phrases to surface was “should have gone to Barnard Castle”, a play on the infamous Specsavers tagline, “should have gone to Specsavers”.

'should have gone to Barnard Castle' - Dominic Cummings - connective3 - 1 June 2020

2 The British politician, author and former journalist Boris Johnson (born 1964) has served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative Party since 2019.