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Is there a word that adequately describes the same context as invoked by tumbleweed rolling through a desert?

E.g. when someone tells a really bad joke and there is an awkward silence.

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    ... crickets ... – The Photon Aug 17 '13 at 18:48
  • Why not just awkward as you mentioned? Another word I can think of is toe-curling. – iterums Aug 17 '13 at 18:49
  • Thanks @iterums, but it's not quite right. Perhaps there is no word for this? – Alasdair Aug 17 '13 at 18:52
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    I'm struggling to understand what you are asking for. Are you saying the awkward silence after someone tells a bad joke can be attributed to its not finding a home in the minds of the listeners? You know, just as a tumbleweed has no home or resting place. – rhetorician Aug 17 '13 at 20:18
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    Is this a word that is intended for written or spoken purposes? For written purposes, apart from ‘crickets’ as eminently suggested by @ThePhoton, another option would be quite simply: “…”, i.e., no words at all, just demonstrative silence in the form of an ellipsis. If it’s meant to be spoken, a demonstrative silence would be enough. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 17 '13 at 22:32
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A joke that is unintentionally embarrassing which causes a prolonged moment of silence and stillness, when only the rustling sound of a tumbleweed can be heard.

Tumbleweed moment When a joke falls flat on its face, it can be called a tumbleweed moment.

A stony silence and deafening silence express the metaphoric meaning of tumbleweed.

Definition at The free dictionary

  • OMG completely forgotten about this answer and the question. I should have closed the more recent question as a duplicate of this one! :) – Mari-Lou A Jul 4 '16 at 5:40
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The image would more likely be that of tumbleweed rolling through a deserted town, creating an image of desolation. Related to that is the concept of moribund as in a moribund sense of humour.

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I suggest that there is a

Lurch : an abrupt jerking, swaying, or tipping movement ; also : stagger

in the conversation, particularly as another usage ("— in the lurch") is

in a vulnerable and unsupported position.

Considering a conversation is supposed to be comfortable and flow from one topic to the next, "lurch" suggests the opposite. It's just a very uncomfortable word.

from m-w.com

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Another possibility is Nomad:

A member of a people who have no permanent abode and travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock

from here.

  • This doesn't capture the “awkward silence” sense that the question is looking for. – Bradd Szonye Aug 18 '13 at 22:21

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