What does "both sides of the glass" mean and where does it come from?
October 21, 2019 6:08 PM   Subscribe

What does "both sides of the glass" mean? I mean, apart from the obvious, when you're cleaning a window. It seems (based on an unpublished academic work I'm reading/editing) to have a metaphorical sense (in a particular field), but I'm curious as to the origin, and to the genre/topic that it is most likely relevant to. I have googled indeed, with quotes and using words like definition, etymology, meaning. If it has a clear and common meaning in YOUR field (of interest, work, family), please share both meaning and field. Thanks heaps.
posted by b33j to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I’ve always understood it to refer to a two-way mirror. The two sides are A) the one being watched and B) the one doing the watching. I’m curious to know if I have misinterpreted this all along!
posted by nathaole at 6:22 PM on October 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have never heard this saying in my life - I don’t know if it’s not used in the architectural field or if I just live under a rock.
posted by Kriesa at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Both (a) Musician and (b) radio person here. I've used it in slightly different, but related, senses in my lines of work, i.e., both sides of the studio glass.

A musician who has worked on both sides of the glass has been both an artist/musician/hired performer in a studio, but has also produced or engineered their own work / been hired to produce others from behind the board.

A radio person who's worked on both sides of the glass has been both a guest or a host of a show in front of the mic, but has also been a producer/editor working in a more supervisory role or calling the shots.
posted by mykescipark at 6:36 PM on October 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think an earlier phrase was "both sides of the looking-glass"...here for example, obviously based on Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Googling looking glass gives a number of "both sides" type results.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 6:39 PM on October 21, 2019

Worked in academic linguistics and in tech, never heard it before in my life except with an obviously literal meaning.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:41 PM on October 21, 2019

I've always heard/used it in the same way as nathanole, but my mental imagery was a window rather than a two-way mirror.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:09 PM on October 21, 2019

The non-literal association for me: Of this work [the Glass Ceiling Initiative] Elizabeth Dole said, “My objective as Secretary of Labor is to look through the ‘glass ceiling’ to see who is on the other side, and to serve as a catalyst for change.”
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:14 PM on October 21, 2019

How is it used?
posted by rhizome at 8:56 PM on October 21, 2019

It is used in the context that mykescipark describes. However, in researching it, I came across multiple contexts as shown above (also not listed above: prison, art, photography, Icelandic youth, wildlife). It makes literal sense in terms of recording in a studio, but given it's wider usage, I was wondering if there was a deeper common meaning that I wasn't aware of.
posted by b33j at 9:07 PM on October 21, 2019

I think the common thing is the presence of glass in these contexts and the attractiveness of using metonymy when writing.
posted by lokta at 1:20 AM on October 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yeah. I mean, it's not like they mean to imply that being a prisoner, being a recording artist, and being photographed have some deep and meaningful thing in common, right? It's just they involve physically being on the far side of a glass barrier or a lens?
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:27 AM on October 22, 2019

In the studio context I've generally heard "beyond/behind the glass."
There's a well-known collection of interviews with recording engineers called "Behind the Glass."

I think the metaphor just got tangled up with "through the looking glass" to arrive at the (fairly common in several fields AFAICT) academic jargon usage.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:21 AM on October 23, 2019

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