Dear Word Detective: Today I’ve come across what appears to be an idiom which I’ve never heard before, perhaps because it appears to be British and Australian and not American. “Take it as red” seems to mean something like “take it as given,” or at least “consider it plausible.” I was wondering if you might be able to further clarify the meaning and explain the origin of the expression? — Blyden Potts.
Oh boy, here we go again. Every time I answer a question about British idioms, I get everything right except for some obscure issue of usage that several hundred cranky limeys just happen to consider the line of demarcation twixt civilization and savagery. Then the skies blacken with flocks of their indignant emails insinuating, among other things, that I endorse the maltreatment of hedgehogs. What is it with the Brits and their weird affection for hedgehogs, anyway? They taste awful.
Yet I must forge on fearlessly. The phrase you are wondering about, incidentally, is “take it as read,” not “red” (the “read” being the past tense of “to read”). I suspect that you know that and simply made a typo in your email, but one mustn’t annoy the hedgehogians.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “to take something as read” as “to treat (a statement, a subject, etc.) as if it has been agreed, without having a discussion about it; to take for granted.” The phrase, which dates back to the late 19th century, most often seems to be used to mean “to accept something as a given or as having already been stated and heard, in order to move on to other things” (“‘It’s really I who ought to say ‘sorry,’ you know. … ‘We’ll take it all as read,’ put in Miss Wilson hastily,” 1930). “Take it as read” is a way to fast-forward past a discussion that would be pointless, painful or redundant.
The roots of “take it as read” lie in parliamentary procedure, the conduct of meetings governed by Robert’s Rules of Order and the like. It is common, for instance, for members of a group to accept the minutes of previous meetings “as read,” meaning without objection, or to approve a resolution as presented (“read”) to the group without modification or the debate that would ensue. The minutes of nearly every organization under the sun, to judge from a Google search, are riddled with the phrase “accepted as read” (“Dr. Fister moved that the August 4, 2006 minutes be accepted as read. Ms. LaVallee seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously,” Board of Dental Examiners, Augusta, Maine, 2006). In the slightly less formal form “take it as read,” the phrase then became a popular way to move a conversation swiftly past a bump in the road.