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late 14c., "the action of hearing," from Old French audience, from Latin audentia "a hearing, listening," from audientum (nominative audiens), present participle of audire "to hear," from PIE compound *au-dh- "to perceive physically, grasp," from root *au- "to perceive" (cf. Greek aisthanesthai "to feel;" Sanskrit avih, Avestan avish "openly, evidently;" Old Church Slavonic javiti "to reveal"). Meaning "formal hearing or reception" is from late 14c.; that of "persons within hearing range, assembly of listeners" is from early 15c. (French audience retains only the older senses). Sense transferred 1855 to "readers of a book." Audience-participation (adj.) first recorded 1940.