Readers reckon they know what the verb to read means. Quite simply, it’s what you are doing now! But the verb can be used to imply a range of other meanings too. Here are a few:
“All I know is what I read in the papers,” doesn’t literally mean that he/she only gets information from newspapers. What the phrase is intended to convey is that the speaker is ordinary, unpretentious, not an expert. The phrase was popularised by the American comedian, Will Rogers, in the 1920s.
Sticking with newspapers, there’s the vendor’s cry “Read all about it.” It wasn’t long before the phrase extended beyond newspaper sellers – hence the BBC programme reviewing new paperback books with the same title.
“Read any good books lately?” An innocuous seeming question from the early twentieth century that then became a catch-phrase to be used when a speaker wanted to divert attention from something. (A young man might perhaps divert his friend’s mother with this question, to stop her spotting his friend kissing a young lady – presumably one he hadn’t been properly introduced to).
“Read between the lines.” Literally, this probably referred to a cryptographic method of conveying meaning in a text via every other line. Nowadays, it refers to an author who conveys more meaning than is in the actual words, perhaps conveying something sensational (or rude) by implication. How many secret Romeos have answered the door whilst buttoning their shirt / trousers – leaving us to ‘read between the lines’ what had gone on just before? (Well maybe not so many these days, where almost anything goes, but it was common practice in books / films a generation or so ago).
“Read my lips.” A phrase popularised by George Bush senior, but used well before that to denote the sincerity of the words being uttered through the lips. It is also an age-old technique used by deaf people or people working in noisy environments.
“Read the riot act.” The original riot act was passed by the British Parliament and read out to the rebellious masses in 1714, ordering them to disperse. Now it is an activity regularly implemented by parents to show disapproval of a child’s errant behaviour.
And finally – “Read, mark, and inwardly digest.” Unlikely though it may seem, this is an actual phrase from the Book of Common Prayer (the Collect for the second Sunday in Advent) and means exactly what it says).
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