[Ads-l] "Read the room"

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Wed May 19 21:07:01 UTC 2021

On Wed, May 19, 2021 at 04:54:03PM -0400, Laurence Horn wrote:
> To quote gloss and two sample sentences provided by The Free Dictionary::
> 'To use one's intuition to analyze the general mood of the people in a particular setting and act accordingly. Often used as an imperative.' 
> I'll read the room and see if it's the right time to have the conversation. If people already seem on edge, I'll probably wait to bring it up. 
> Read the room, James. No one here is interested in talking politics right now.
> I was wondering when this originated and when it caught on again to show up in commercials.  Does anyone know?  I’m assuming that since it’s not really a word (even by our extended WOTY-style definition), it won’t show up in back issues of Among the New Words, but someone here might have tracked it.  If I had to guess, the guess would involve usage by stand-up comedians.  

It's in OED:

*to read the room*: to be alert and responsive to the mood or behaviour of the audience one is addressing; (more generally) to remain attentive and astute in one's interactions with others.

1975 _Oakland (Calif.) Post_ 23 Mar. 4 In another question I asked, has any audience or person felt insulted by your comments, he said no because you read the room when you first bring the group together by asking where they are from this has a way of relaxing everybody and removes the sensitivity.

1995 _N.Y. Times_ 23 Apr. (Money & Business section) 11/3 You can detect chandelier [sc. fake] bids by watching closely... The more auctions you attend, the better you will be at reading the room.

2019 L. Post _Higher Etiquette_ iv. 61 Even once you have established household norms, it never hurts to double-check. A simple ‘Are you cool with this?’ or ‘Want me to open a window?’ will suffice... Read the room—even when it's just the two of you.

Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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