They’re the three most 2020 words there are: “Read the room.”
In case you’ve never heard the phrase, here’s a primer. Say you’re a motivational speaker who delivers stories from your long career of business glory to corporate groups across the country. You get confused every now and then about who you’re speaking to and when. So, one fine morning, you ascend to the stage at a Ramada outside Pittsburgh and are confronted with a sea of Hobby Lobby corporate polos. You realize perhaps now isn’t the moment for that anecdote about that time you closed a deal in Hamburg by drinking the executive board under the table at a biergarten, all the while telling bawdy jokes.
Congratulations: You’ve read the room.
The room can be expressed in more metaphorical ways, as well.
If a plane has just crashed, for instance, that probably isn’t the time to tweet a Pan Am 103 joke. (In fact, never would probably be the time, but let’s start with right after the plane crash.)
If your friends are losing their jobs left and right, it isn’t the moment to shoot a TikTok video in which you roll around in $100 bills on your bed.
And if you’re Joe Biden and you realize mores around creepy-sounding stories involving men are changing — particularly on the left, where people have long been able to slip the word “patriarchy” into a sentence three times without even cracking a smile — you don’t regale people with a story about how you almost got arrested after following girls into a women’s campus dorm back in 1963.
Now, granted, Biden’s read-the-room moments come from eight and 12 years ago, a veritable lifetime before the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was accused of sexual assault.
However, it’s a story almost everyone would have admitted should have remained untold. It’s also not quite as grotesquely bad as it could have been, given the kind of scrapes that Barack Obama’s former veep was known to tumble into.