What is a “Read” ?

In a recent email from The Vocabula Review (Robert Hartwell Fiske) I received the strong admonishment that anyone using the word “read” as a noun (as in “It was a good read.”) was possibly causing the first brick to fall from the edifice of civilization. Now I highly recommend that everyone subscribe and read Fiske’s excellent online monthly The Vocabula Review, but I have a problem with this last bit of instruction: you see, I regularly refer to a non-specified article of human expression as a “read.”

We all know that language evolves, grows, simplifies, changes, and not always for the best. However, some words and word usage are being honored for its exactness and elegance based on a 19th century reader with a leather-bound volume open beneath a flickering candle in the library or under the covers in a frosty bed. Compare this to sitting comfortably in a well-lit room reading hefty novels contained in a small electronic device with a backlit screen and automatic scrolling. Or perhaps you “read” a book that is on a CD playing in your vigorous Ford war wagon approaching grandmother’s house with the kids in the back seat watching their favorite stories on DVD players mounted on the backs of the seats or flipping down from the headliner.


So Fiske tells me not to refer to a “read” but what is the generic term I should use. I can’t say “book” because I might be listening to it on tape. Fact is, I can’t think of any one term that would cover all the ways we read today. You might make the argument that I should be specific and say book if it was a book, tape if it was a tape, granny if it was a story read out loud in front of the fireplace with the wolves howling outside. But that might be how I ingested the “book” and not necessarily how you will engage with the text. So I say you should “read a book” and you think “I would rather listen to a tape of a book”—I say “read” and you say “listen”—but the end result is the contents of the author’s work seeps into our hearts, brains, and RLS centers.


I contend that the single word “read,” albeit a noun wrenched from a verb, is acceptable as a collective noun representing all the ways and materials that may be encountered in the process of “reading” a text. By referring to the end result as a “read” there is no need to go into the mechanical specifics of the text-ingestion process.

Your opinion differs?

2 thoughts on “What is a “Read” ?

  1. Would the parallel use of the noun “listen” as in “give it a listen” also be considered barbaric or would it offer supporting evidence that a “read” should be considered an acceptable English noun?


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