[Ads-l] "Read the room"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 21 23:58:29 UTC 2021

Heard on Rick and Morty:

[Jewish character points out to a formerly-Christian congregation that,
though the current religious situation is problematic for Christians, for
Jews, happily and unexpectedly, it is of no consequence, for a change. This
observation is met with stony silence from the congregation.]
"Nothing? Tough church!"

I.e, the speaker failed at "reading the room." This failure to "read the
room" has become such a comedic cliché that both real and imaginary
stand-up comedians are heard to mutter under their breath, "Tough crowd!"
when a jocular observation "falls flat," to coin a phrase. Hence, "Tough
church!" puns on ""Tough crowd!"

On Fri, May 21, 2021 at 6:43 PM ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>

> 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"
> Garson
> 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]
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

- Wilson
All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

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

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