Draw a bead on

Draw a bead on is an idiom that is been in use for many years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom draw a bead on, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Draw a bead on means to take aim at something, to train one’s sights on something, to plan an ambitious goal, or to concentrate on something. The bead mentioned in the phrase draw a bead on refers to the metal bead placed on top of a gun as a part of the sight. A notch is placed on top of the gun closer to the shooter, and the bead is placed farther down the barrel. A shooter takes aim by lining the bead up with the notch. The idiom draw a bead on came into use in in the mid-1800s to mean to aim at someone with a gun; the term was quickly adopted in a larger figurative sense in the United States. Related phrases are draws a bead, drew a bead, drawing a bead.


The vaccines are being distributed in local communities across the country, and health experts are actually starting to draw a bead on just when the pandemic will be behind us. (Sterling Journal-Advocate)

You’ll find yourself frazzled just trying to draw a bead on all the options, while a numbing calliope tune insists it’s all great fun. (Discover Magazine)

The critic Pauline Kael back in the Eighties drew a bead on the fantastically acclaimed Meryl Streep, observing that the actress “makes a career out of seeming to overcome being miscast.” (National Review)

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