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In British English, "he looked around the room impressively" is a somewhat common expression (warning: I grew up in the colonies and lived in the UK for only about 5 years, so please correct me if I'm wrong here. I feel like I've read it in books by Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchet, PG Wodehouse, etc, but I could just be losing my mind). It doesn't really make any sense, now I think about it, but it basically means looking around in a puffed-up way, checking to see if other people have noticed you. But it's less derogatory than looking around disdainfully or arrogantly. Grandiosely might be a reasonable synonym, but it makes an awkward and ugly phrase.

In any event, American readers in a writers' critique group vomited on it and said it didn't make any sense. So my questions are:

Does it really not make sense to American readers? Is it actually a nonsense expression that I just invented without realizing it? And what idiomatic expression might American English readers prefer?

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  • This is an opinion-based issue, but could you provide evidence of what you are asserting?
    – user 66974
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 19:33
  • Google found only two instances of "looked around the room impressively". One in a domain called "fanfiction" and another in a domain "archiveofyourown".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 19:50
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    If someone looked around the room impressively, I suppose it could mean "he looked around the room in a way that made everybody there realise that he was really, really good at looking around rooms". Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 20:06
  • @MichaelHarvey: I concur. I'm not sure where the difficulty is.
    – Ricky
    Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 20:59

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I hate to contradict your writers' critique group, but that is a perfectly fine phrase in American English. The only plausible criticism I could imagine is that it might sound slightly old-fashioned, but I'm not even sure about that.

If you nevertheless decide to use an alternative expression, the choice should be guided by what character trait you are trying to emphasize. Some possibilities are (all links are to Merriam-Webster) self-importantly, pompously, arrogantly, pretentiously, grandiloquently, haughtily, conceitedly, grandiosely, superciliously, pontifically, snootily, affectedly, overbearingly, imperiously, smugly, and no doubt many others.

Discussion

If you search google books for "looked around impressively" (here), you will see several examples of this phrase in published literature, including works by American authors.

Some examples of usage by American authors:

He looked around impressively.
From Myra Page, Gathering Storm: A Story of the Black Belt (1932) (link)

Willie looked around impressively at the deeply attentive Troop members.
From Myra Reed Richardson, The Mule Skinners (1945) (link)
(If you search for color and center, you will find hits, but not if you search for colour and centre. Also, Viking is an American publishing house.)

He looked around impressively.
From Herbert Brean, The Clock Strikes Thirteen (1954). (link)

He looked around impressively.
From Harry Kemelman, Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (1964) (link)

A portrait of Olivier, given to him by Sir Larry, broods impressively.
From David Ansen and Abigail Kuflik, 'America's own. (cover story)', Neewsweek magazine (1994), via COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English)

You know how many millennia it's been since that idiot Tower crumbled into dust? He flicked his golden wings imperiously, impressively.
From Harlan Ellison, From A to Z, in the Sarsaparilla Alphabet (link) (2001), via COCA

Looking for something positive to say, I pointed to a corner shelf. "I like the little glass monkey. " Aunt Lilith frowned. " Don't you remember? Olivia brought that monkey to me from Scotland. " " How could I forget? " I whispered under my breath. " Olivia went with her class to Scotland. She's a sophomore at Vandergriff High. " Aunt Lilith nodded impressively. " Olivia, tell Bea your news. " I made cheerleader this year, " Olivia said, folding her hands neatly in her lap. " Such a pretty girl. " Aunt Lilith beamed at Olivia.
From The Pretty One (2008), via COCA

For completeness, here is the relevant entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):

impressively, adv.: In an impressive manner; in a way fitted to impress.

1818 in H. J. Todd Johnson's Dict. Eng. Lang.

1830 I. D'Israeli Comm. Life Charles I III. vi. 110
The King..impressively assured him that he considered him the happiest man in England.

1841 J. W. Orderson Creoleana xvii. 209
The funeral service was impressively performed.

1860 J. Tyndall Glaciers of Alps i. xvi. 115
My guide..repeating the warning more impressively before I attended to it.

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  • I agree. I’d say it’s a literary tool used by the author to convey that perhaps the subject is acting in a way that he believes to be impressive or to impress others.
    – Arkhem
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 9:06
  • I'm not sure that it's not an attempt at "He looked round, impressed, at ...'. I find it jarring and I'm surprised at the literary examples (but not at all surprised by the lack of many recent examples / the fact that OED lists only sensible-looking examples). Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 15:45
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Ngram finds no examples of its use in British English 1990-2019. It isn't a "somewhat common expression" in British English and its precise meaning is - as Michael Harvey points out - absurd. But no doubt it has been used from time to time.

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