[Ads-l] "Read the room"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 21 22:43:41 UTC 2021

Thanks for your response, Stephen.
Here is a 1949 citation for "reading the crowd" which I conjecture is
related to "reading the room". The phrase is enclosed within quotation
marks signaling that the writer felt some readers would be unfamiliar
with the expression:

Date: July 26, 1949
Newspaper: Clinton Daily Journal and Public
Location: Clinton, Illinois
Serialized Story: Wonderful Neighbor by Homer Croy
Chapter XX
Quote Page 4, Column 6 and 7

[Begin excerpt]
The "Colonel," as we called the auctioneer, was half psychologist,
half comedian; he stood there, a big gray hat on his head, his thumbs
in his vestholes, his cane dangling on his arm, "reading the crowd." A
haltered colt was led up. "All you men who have to go to the house to
consult your wife before you can bid, leave now! And all you men who
don't know a good chattel when you see it, step back and make way for
smart men.
[End excerpt]

A synecdoche mechanism may have generated  "reading the room" from
"reading the crowd in a room".
 Here is the tentative two-step evolution:

Generalization: "reading a person" to "reading a crowd"
Synecdoche: "reading a crowd in a room" to "reading a room"


On Fri, May 21, 2021 at 12:14 PM Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
> Maybe, though one can read minds, hearts ("Once read thine own breast right/ and though hast done with fears/ man gets no other light/ search he a thousand years"), tea leaves, footprints, music, dreams, omens, auras....
> As Johnny Carson used to say, "tough crowd...moving right along...."
> SG
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2021 10:27 AM
> Subject: Re: "Read the room"
> Perhaps "reading a room" was derived via a generalization mechanism
> from "reading an individual".  Below is a 1971 citation for reading a
> person.
> Date: April 20, 1971
> Newspaper: Pottsville Republican
> Newspaper Location: Pottsville, Pennsylvania
> Article: Horoscope
> Author: Stella Wilder
> Quote Page 13, Column 4
> Database: Newspapers.com
> [Begin excerpt]
> Although you are intelligent enough to argue and win the point, you
> take no pleasure out of battles of wits. You would prefer to read a
> good book than to try to read another person, just as you would favor
> an evening of good music over an evening of listening to views with
> which you find it impossible to agree.
> [End excerpt]

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