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Aleksandar M. Velkoski

This is a thought-provoking post. How about we structure our thoughts this way: if we looked at the definition of the term "applaud," we would find that it could mean either the "physical approval by the clapping of hands" or "a gesture of approval".

Therefore, a student that receives an "A" in a class has probably been applauded either by their parents or other individuals that have both a personal connection to the student and knowledge of the "A" (maybe not by the clapping of hands, but definitely through some gesture of approval). I find that it would be a similar situation for someone like a Chef. If I had a great meal, and if I knew the Chef that created the meal, I would probably give him applause not by the clapping of hands but rather by some other, more personal, gesture.

That brings us to this question: why would someone "clap" as a gesture of approval rather than provide a more discrete gesture? In order to find out we would probably have to look at the etymology of the term "applause" to get a sense of how that idea was originally developed and used. By doing so we would find that the singular "plaudite" was a term Romans used, in a play setting, to "appeal" for applaud by numerous people. So, after a play was over, one individual would yell "plaudite!" if he liked the play thus causing others who felt the same way to express their gesture of applaud as well. If there were, then, hundreds of people applauding the play, it would have been tough to differentiate every individual's personal gesture of applause. Hence, in that type of situation, what would have developed would have been hundreds of people providing their own personal gestures of applaud which, in sum, amounted to making a bunch of noise (some yelling words, some whistling, some clapping, etc.).

The reality is that we applaud people every day through a variety of methods. Some are through words and phrases like "congratulations," "good work," "well done," etc., and others are through clapping and whistling (for example). Some people might even say that giving a student an "A" itself, or even repeat eating at a restaurant, would be a gesture of approval equal to words or making noise. Our choice of the method to show our approval depends on a variety of factors. Using your example for the student, are you the teacher? Parent? Friend? What setting are you in? How many other people are in that setting too? Do others in that setting know about it? Is the situation relevant to their lives? Do they care? Do they feel the student's actions are worthy of an applaud?

Based upon the way the Romans used the idea, I think we could solidly conclude that if an individual is in a group setting and wants to show his approval knowing that his personal gesture may not be received personally, he would probably make noise (like clapping). If he was in an individual setting, where his personal appeal would likely be received personally, he would probably use words or some other discrete method.

Dave P

I enjoyed this post.
Clap, clap, clap.

Arby's has a bell you can ring if you valued the service they gave you.


While good service or other accomplishments might deserve applause, I believe applause is historically rooted in situations involving a performance (in front of an audience) of some kind. As far as I know, I can't think of any non-performance situations where applause is given to show appreciation. A chef generally does not cook in front of his patrons, and a dry cleaner certainly doesn't dry clean in front of his customers. As such, I am inclined to agree with Aleksandar in that in non-performance situations, there are other appropriate indicators that can convey a similar appreciation for actions/services that deserve recognition.


Thanks for the comments.

Aleks, thanks for the history lesson. I guess the discretion part is necessary in certain cases. And it makes sense that applause is necessary in large groups or so that the performer can hear the approval.

Dave, thanks for the applause. I didn't know about the Arby's bell. I haven't been to one in probably 25 years.

Lydia, it is about performance situations, but does it have to be? Some non-performers might want applause too. :-)

Julie Kayganich

I completely agree with your comments about standing ovations! I go to the theater frequently and I think it is very deceiving of audiences to give standing ovations. Once one person stands up, everyone feels the need to stand up. If you do not stand up and applaud, people look and wonder what is wrong with you.

Standing ovations should be the greatest reward a performer can get. The overuse of them makes it seem like every performer is outstanding, when in all actuality, they are not. Many of the performancess I have attended where standing ovations were rewarded were overall mediocre shows.

Applause is a great way to show your gratification, but a standing ovation is a great way to demonstrate to the performer that the show went above and beyond the expectations.

Sara H

This was interesting. I feel like following people in their applause is always a patsy move... That said, if no one starts the applause then no one applauds. Vicious cycle anyone? Anyway, just wanted to drop by and say that I notice these things too. Quite often I might add. Although if we did start applauding customer service, we might have better experiences.

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