What does "can still own a room" mean in the following newspaper article?

Ichiro Suzuki sipped green tea, elicited a few laughs and turned the tables on a media member with three questions of his own during his introductory news conference with the Miami Marlins.

It was clear from the start that Ichiro can still own a room. The Marlins are also betting the 41-year-old outfielder can still play a little bit as well.

  • The question relates to literary interpretation -- voting to close. – Kris Jan 31 '15 at 6:07
  • The phrase has largely been picked up from the title of a popular book. AFAIK, it's neither a recognized idiom nor a catchphrase. – Kris Jan 31 '15 at 6:08
  • A Google search quickly shows that it's a common expression. It may not be an idiom in the strict sense of the word, because the meaning can be established with the dictionary definition of own, to control. – Jim Reynolds Feb 18 '15 at 9:15

It means that Ichiro is a commanding presence -- that when he is in a room, he tends to be the center of attention.

  • How? Is that an opinion? – Kris Jan 30 '15 at 7:32
  • 2
    Of course it's an opinion. Read the article snippet. – Gnawme Jan 30 '15 at 18:17

Idiomatically, "owning a room" means commanding the respect and interest of everyone in it. It is usually applied to situations where a performer or (as here) an interviewee is sufficiently entertaining, thoughtful, and intriguing to make everyone present want to pay close attention to everything he or she says or does.

The expression seems to have gained currency fairly recently, although glimmerings of it are evident from somewhat farther back. One early match for the phrase that hints at its subsequent figurative use appears in Maud Goodwin, Four Roads to Paradise, serialized in The Century Magazine (May 1904):

Before he could shake himself free, Yates was literally cornered by the plain young lady in yellow, and could console himself only by the excellent view of Anne which his position gave him. "She is not really handsome,” he declared; “it is only the way she carries her head and her general air of owning the room and the company."

Yates was right. Anne's manner was labeled hors concours, like the pictures in the exhibitions, and signified that it was his own merits rather than hers which were being decided by her neighbor's estimate.

Similarly, from Stephen Graham, "An Ikon in Your Room," in The Treasury (June 1908):

Certainly the ikon is a power, it gives an atmosphere to its room. It owns the room, or rather it is a Presence in the room. It reminds, it restrains. Outside are the sun and moon and stars, the beautiful creation to remind ; inside the ikon takes their place.

But in a Google Books search, the earliest match for the phrase used in the sense that the OP asks about is from Writers Forum, volume 6 (1979) [combined snippets]:

...collar, but the face was the same. Immediately people were on their feet and moving to the door, reaching for him and laughing, hands pulling at his arms in a tumult of adulation.

He owned the room. The calm easiness with which he viewed crowd showed he knew it. The big sweet smile of the boy next door, the effortless way he moved through the people, shaking hands, calling the names of men who reached over shoulders to slap his back. He had always known he had magic in his face, a gift he could not explain but one he had happily used all his life. And in the bright smile practised affection I could tell he had not lost his touch.

  • ...[B]ut you're still a diamond. Once you realize that, the sky is the limit. Once you realize that, you can come into the room and own the room. Date: 2012 (120228); Publication information: A-SECTION; Pg. A01; Title: Full of love for full figures; Author Lonnae O'Neal Parker; Source: Washington Post – Jim Reynolds Feb 18 '15 at 9:28

Own ("can still own a room")

The metaphoric use of own is widely used and understood in UK since being used in the X Factor TV show. Typically here, it is used to suggest that someone has interpreted a well-known song so well as to put from our minds the original (better-known) version - 'you really owned that', 'you set out to own that song, and I'm afraid you failed' ....

The usage in the OP is similarly metaphoric - the person owning the room has taken control of it.

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