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I was at a theater last night and the play was "The Bear" by Anton Chekhov. I heard this peice of dialogue in there

Who's that? Tell them that I receive nobody.

The way I interpreted this sentence was

I don't want to see anybody at the moment. I need to be alone.

So firstly, is my understanding correct? Secondly, is this old English and no longer used?

  • Do you mean you were at the theatre rather than the movie theatre because you're talking about a "play" at a movie theatre? I don't think they show plays there. As for an answer to your question, you interpreted it correctly; the person doesn't want to see anybody at the moment. I don't know whether it's an archaic form of English, but it is very thespian English. The theatre can become "histrionic", you know. – Nick Nov 23 '17 at 6:33
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receive is a little dated in the meaning "to invite a guest into one's home". To "receive guests" is not used much nowadays, outside the hotel industry, except to invoke the past or to suggest that the home is large and luxurious.

That sentence is also not idiomatic in its choice of tense. We'd use the continuous:

"Tell them that I'm receiving no one".

(The departure from contemporary idiom may have been intentional.)

  • I always interpreted "receive" in that context as "accepting/embracing" visitors. The actual invitation is something that precedes the receiving of visitors. That said, you're right, nobody uses this form anymore except those of particularly high culture like nobles. – Neil Nov 23 '17 at 13:20
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Your interpretation is correct.

I suppose, "to receive nobody" is a translation from an old Russian collocation "никого не принимать", that means "don't receive anybody at the moment."

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