Cold Reading phrase origins?

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Postby Diego » 10/12/09 12:19 PM

I was looking for the earliest use of the term, "Cold Reading", as used by mentalists/psychics, while doing readings for groups or individuals.
Not "stock" or "prepared", but the word "Cold Reading."

Robert Nelson uses the term in his writings by the late 1940's.
William lindsay Gresham uses the term in "Nightmare Alley" in 1946. There is supposed to maybe be a use of the term in, "A Magician Among the Spirits", by Houdini.

Can anyone verify earlier uses in print of "cold reading?"
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 10/13/09 08:50 AM

How close in time is this to the expression from sales/marketting 'Cold Calling' ?
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Postby Max Maven » 10/13/09 08:02 PM

Jonathan Townsend wrote:How close in time is this to the expression from sales/marketting 'Cold Calling' ?


The two expressions are not related. What is related to "cold calling" is the use of the term "cold reading" in the context of theater, when actors read a script out loud without having pre-read the text.

Diego, I've heard several people say that the term "cold reading" appears in Gresham's "Nightmare Alley," but I was unable to find it. It does appear in his "Monster Midway," a collection of articles published in 1953 (albeit the article that mentions cold reading was published a few years earlier.
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Postby Daniel Bain » 10/13/09 08:31 PM

Julien Proskauer also used the phrase in 1946 on page 17 of his book "The Dead Do Not Talk" (but, for whatever it is worth, he did not necessarily use the phrase in his earlier books written in the 1930's).

I looked through a few other books on debunking psychics from the 1880's through 1940's (including "A Magician Among the Spirits", by Houdini) and didn't notice the phrase "cold reading"--but I only did a very quick flip through (and some of the books I would have otherwise checked are in storage).

I also tried searching on books.google.com but the few books from the early 1900's that might have referred to the phrase in the right context (including a psychology book and a medical text) do not have their contents viewable on line and are not in my collection...

It appears that the term "cold reading" was used in the 19th century to refer to reading a musical score for the first time without previous review. And the phrase "mind reading" was certainly common in the 19th century as well.
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Postby Steve Bryant » 10/13/09 08:43 PM

I cheated and let google search Nightmare Alley for me. It found three references to cold reading, which you can see here:

http://littleegyptmagic.com/nightmare.html

I don't have a copy of the book to check the references, nor can I read the one on page 268. Nevertheless, the other two make for interesting sentences.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/13/09 10:41 PM

Oddly enough, the quote you can't see in Google Books from page 268 of "Nightmare Alley" is exactly the same sentence on page 271: "A guy who's good at the cold reading will never starve."

In the final scene in the book on page 274 Carlyle drunkenly describes himself as, "Best cold reader in the country."

And to correct something I posted in the other thread on this same subject, the ending of the book where Stanton is offered a job reads: "Of course, it's only temporary - just until we get a real geek."
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 10/13/09 10:52 PM

"Of course, it's only temporary - just until we get a real geek."

There are days when my job seems to fit that description.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/14/09 12:16 AM

David Alexander wrote:Oddly enough, the quote you can't see in Google Books from page 268 of "Nightmare Alley" is exactly the same sentence on page 271: "A guy who's good at the cold reading will never starve."

In the final scene in the book on page 274 Carlyle drunkenly describes himself as, "Best cold reader in the country."

And to correct something I posted in the other thread on this same subject, the ending of the book where Stanton is offered a job reads: "Of course, it's only temporary - just until we get a real geek."


Before the pedants catch my small error, make that "Carlisle" not "Carlyle."
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Postby opie » 10/14/09 12:17 AM

COLD READING - http://www.csicop.org/si/show/rorschach ... d_reading/ - HIST CR -

COLD READING - http://www.denisdutton.com/cold_reading.htm - See Ray Hyman and Barnum Effect -

COLD READING - http://psychic-abilities.suite101.com/a ... ld_reading -- -

Okay guys.....Read those three links, take two aspirin, and let's chat about Hyman and Barnum as probably using "cold reading" first in the context of testing and/or evaluating personality traits in some studies....one such study was palm reading, but Hyman got into a lot other psychic sciences in his studies of gleaning information about people through techniques he called "cold reading".

I suspect Hyman was probably the first to use that term in the context we are seeking....

I don't have a complete collection of Nelson's books, but there may be some early references in them and perhaps a reference to psychological scholars who may have coined the word....

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Postby David Alexander » 10/14/09 12:17 AM

Richard Kaufman wrote:"Of course, it's only temporary - just until we get a real geek."

There are days when my job seems to fit that description.


I suppose that explains all the chicken heads in the Genii office.
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Postby David Alexander » 10/14/09 12:48 AM

Being as how Ray Hyman was 18 when Gresham's book was published it seems likely he read the term there and used it later. In the early 1950s Bob Nelson was using the term in books and may have helped popularize the term.

In Bob Nelson's "The Secret Methods of Private Readers" which I think originally came out in 1953 and was republished in a revised edition by Micky Hades in 1975, he references in the Glossary - "SPIEL - The line of lingo handed out by the medium - the verbal reading."

The page and a quarter glossary does not contain a definition of "Cold Reading."

On page 30 Nelson devotes about one-third of a page to "Psychological or Cold Reading," and suggests the student buy his book "The Art of Cold Reading."

I know a guy who, for emotional reasons of his own, started to believe he was "psychic." He started hanging around tea rooms in his home town where other "psychics" did readings. As he is both intelligent and observant he soon picked up on the way the game was played, only he thought he was doing it for real.

He would call and challenge me to explain how he was having so many "hits" when he did readings, especially when he was reading other readers. He absolutely refused to listen to my explanation of cold reading.

In the end he simply said to me, "No. I'm psychic." And that was that.
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Postby Daniel Bain » 10/14/09 06:19 PM

I just looked through Julien Proskauer's book "Spook Crooks" (1928, 1st UK ed). In 1928, when the book was first published, Proskauer was Chairman of the Press Committee and a Trustee of Parent Assembly Number one of the Society of American Magicians. He was also a member of the Magic Circle, International Brotherhood of Magicians, Syndicat International des Artistes Prestidigiateurs of Paris, as well as a member of the American Society for Psychical Research. His book "Spook Crooks" seems pretty thorough in covering a wide range of mind reading "techniques". So one would guess that he would have been aware of accepted terminology.

In this book published in 1928 (and I believe the first US Edition was in 1932, but my copy of the US edition is currently in storage), he describes cold reading techniques in several places but does not actually use the phrase "cold reading".

As I mentioned in an earlier post, he did use the phrase in his book "The Dead Do Not Talk" published in 1946.

This would imply the term "cold reading" may not have been in active use until after the 1930's (and possibly not until the 1940's).
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Postby T Baxter » 10/15/09 12:24 AM

I believe that the term "cold reading" was first used on an icy night in Jan.1928, in Winnepeg, Canada, to describe a fellow heading into an outhouse with a Sear-Roebuck catalogue.

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Postby Magic Newswire » 10/16/09 06:25 AM

T. Baxter wrote:I believe that the term "cold reading" was first used on an icy night in Jan.1928, in Winnepeg, Canada, to describe a fellow heading into an outhouse with a Sear-Roebuck catalogue.

T. Baxter


I have to say, I like that one! ;-)
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Postby Diego » 10/17/09 12:30 AM

Also found mention of the term in "Mainly Mental", by C.L. Boarde, 1947/1948.

"Nightmare Alley" still seems to be the earliest use of the term in print. (1946)

Can anyone find an earlier reference?
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Postby Max Maven » 10/17/09 09:11 AM

Just a quick follow-up: My earlier message was written while traveling in Asia. When I said that I'd looked in Gresham's "Nightmare Alley" and not found the term, I was misremembering. It was Houdini's "Magician Among the Spirits" where I'd failed to locate the term.

Not that this adds to the discussion, but it does make me look less dopey.
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