I have encountered the expression "I'm a fast read" in recent American literature, articles and blogs. I understand the meaning, but given its unusual phraseology (using read as a verbal noun), I am curious about its origins. Google turns up nothing substantive regarding it.

Usage examples:

If I were you I would get ready to implement this proposal, the President is a fast read.” From Genetic Swaps an Ethical Dilemma By Nickolas Bay.

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    What is the meaning you understand?
    – JEL
    Jan 25, 2019 at 4:13
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    Please include several use cases with broad context for each.
    – Kris
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:08
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    My first impression is I'm somebody whom others can easily make sense of or it doesn't take long to figure out where I'm coming from. In other words I see I'm a fast read as no different than I'm an easy read or I'm easily read. Jan 25, 2019 at 18:55
  • I'm interested to understand this history of this expression, where did it originate?
    – mxm
    Jan 26, 2019 at 1:52
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    Fattie, there's something interesting in that response that goes beyond triviality. If "fast read" is equivalent to "fast reader," is there some rule behind that shortened use? "Fast write," to my knowledge, doesn't exist. Does "fast pitch" ever refer to the pitcher? It feels like there's something special about "fast read" that goes to other meanings of read as judgment or consideration of something. (He wasn't Aethelred the Fast Read.) Feb 27, 2019 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


Here, at greater length, is the instance that the poster cites from Nickolas Bay, Genetic Swaps an Ethical Dilemma (2008):

"That's a thorough and well thought out plan, Janet. I'll set it up in a detailed format so you can give it to the President. I know he will want to study it."

"Your [sic] right Frank, and she hands him a folder entitled, "The Booster Plan."

He smiles at her as he thumbs through the folder, looks up and says, "I would not have expected anything less from you, a beautiful job Janet. If I were you I would get ready to implement this proposal, the President is a fast read."

When used in the context of a piece of writing—as in "Goodnight Moon is a fast read"—the phrase "fast read" has a distinct idiomatic meaning, along the lines of "easy for a reader to read quickly." It often applies to "light reading" that is entertaining and requires little effort on the reader's part and so goes quickly, regardless of the actual length of the text.

But when used in the context of a person—as in the posted example—"fast read" flips to a different idiomatic meaning, along the lines of "capable of reading a text, person, or situation quickly and accurately"—and hence, figuratively, "capable of swiftly getting up to speed on some subject." Indeed, it seems, to a large extent, interchangeable with "fast reader"—except that in some cases the reading may involve a situation or person's character rather than a text.

Early examples of 'fast read' as applied to a person

In searching Google Books for other examples of "fast read" as applied to a person, I came across several examples, all reasonably consistent with the poster's example.

From Ian Wallace, Heller's Leap (1979):

"Could you teach me?"


"How long would it take?"

"You're a fast read; in your case, it might not take very long. What did you have in mind?"

"A possible tie-in with the Heller murders. Are you seeing why?"

"Yes, but I'm seeing also a long-range difficulty for you, Inspector."

From William Diehl, Thai Horse (1987):

"Do you understand it now?"

"Most of it," he said. "I'm a little confused on details."

"Like what?"

"Like you and Prophett."

"I'd like you to understand about Johnny and me, maybe it will explain what holds us all together. It's not fear of being discovered."

"I know it isn't fear, I'm a fast read."

From an unidentified article in Mother Jones magazine (March–April 2002) [combined snippets]:

Not that Ashcroft wasn't up to the job. "People can underestimate him," say a Justice Department lawyer who has briefed him. "He is smart. He's a fast read. He can understand an issue and the political dynamics of it right away. ..."

From an unidentified article in The Deal, volume 6 (2008) [combined snippets]:

Both the substance and the tone grabbed lawyers' attention. Some were disturbed by the rulinfs' apparent boldness; others admired their candor. But the decisions demonstrated a command of their subject that put to rest any worries about Strine's ability to grasp the nuances of corporate law. "Gaylord and Chesapeake made clear that this guy gets it in a practical sense," says J. Travis Laster, a partner at Abrams & Laster LLP in Wilmington. "A year and a half to get the practical side—it was pretty impressive. There's no doubt he's a fast read."

The "person as a fast read" sense of "fast read" thus goes back at least to 1979.

An early example of 'fast read' as applied to a book

A Google Books search for early examples of the "book as a fast read" sense of "fast read" yields results from a bit farther back—to at least Pauline Kael, "Stanley Strangelove," in The New Yorker (January 1972):

Burgess's 1962 novel [A Clockwork Orange] is set in a vaguely Socialist future (roughly, the late seventies or early eighties)—a dreary, routinized England that roving gangs of teen-age thugs terrorize at night. In perceiving the amoral destructive potential of youth gangs, Burgess's ironic fable differs from Orwell's 1984 in a way that already seems prophetically accurate. The novel is narrated by the leader of one of these gangs—Alex, a conscienceless schoolboy sadist—and, in a witty, extraordinarily sustained literary conceit, narrated in his own slang (Nadsat, the teen-agers' special dialect). The book is a fast read; Burgess, a composer turned novelist, has an ebullient, musical sense of language, and you pick up the meanings of the strange words as the prose rhythms speed you along.

I am much more familiar with the book sense of "fast read" than the person sense of the same phrase, but the earliest example of it that I could find (from 1972) is much more recent than I had expected.


In a separate answer (currently deleted), site participant Fattie astutely pointed out that the human sense of "fast read" has a lot in common with the phrase "quick study" as applied to a person. However, I don't know whether "quick study" influenced the emergence of "fast read" in this sense.

I also don't know how the two seemingly inconsistent senses of "fast read" happened to arise in roughly the same time frame, as seems to be the case. But I'm not surprised that Urban Dictionary (as cited in a now-deleted post by site participant Barmar) includes a definition of "fast read" posted by jakaha on January 2, 2009, that applies the sense one would expect from "fast read" books to "fast read" people:

fast read A person whose true motives and agenda are quickly recognized.

This is clearly not the meaning of "fast read" in the person-related examples I have quoted above—and yet intuitively it seems quite compatible with the meaning of "fast read" in book-related situations, which are the more common setting for "fast read." Nevertheless, usage generally outpoints logic when the two come into conflict in English; and for now, a "fast read" person has very little in common with a "fast read" book, even though people will sometimes say "I can read you like a book."

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