[Ads-l] "Read the room"

Nancy Friedman wordworking at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 19 21:41:33 UTC 2021

The Oakland Post was (and is) the largest-circulation African American
newspaper in Northern California. Could "read the room" have originated
among African American politicians or entertainers?

On Wed, May 19, 2021, 2:07 PM Jesse Sheidlower <jester at panix.com> wrote:

> 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

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

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