they 'got the bead on'

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Senior Member
Dear all
Please kindly advise if "bead" in the following context, taken from "The Three Soldiers" by Dos Passos means "bullets" or "shrapnels" or that sort of things.
Time: 1918
Location: a shack somewhere in France turned into barracks
Note: The inspecting sergeant has ordered the soldiers to clean the barracks and knock down the swallows' nests full of little chicks. The little naked bodies, with their orange bills too big for them, give a soft plump when they hit the boards of the floor, where they lay giving faint gasping squeaks.
"I felt just like those little birds that time they got the bead on our trench at Boticourt," said Jenkins, laughing.
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    No, "draw a bead on" means have someone in your (rifle) sights.

    It's difficult to think of a neat "translation", but the idea is that the enemy were firing on the trench, and firing accurately.


    English - England
    In this context, "got the bead on" means "targeted".

    Therefore, it means: "...that time they targeted our trench". Jenkins is explaining that he felt targeted like the birds when he was targeted in his trench.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English UK
    It is likely to be military language and may refer to placing a bead or a marker on a military map to indicate where to attack.
    Hi william - welcome to the forums:)

    I think "bead" in this expression actually comes from a type of shotgun sight:
    For more than 100 years shotgun have been equipped with “bead” sights, a simple, yet very effective sighting device. This sighting system is made up of a small round ball that is mounted on the muzzle end of the barrel, and is used without a rear sight piece.
    To use the bead sight, the shooter places the bead in line with the intended target and uses the flat area on the top of the receiver to insure that the weapon is leveled, in relation to the target. When properly leveled, the bead should appear to be sitting on top of the receiver.


    Senior Member
    English UK
    No, I'm sure you're right:D

    All I'm saying is that that's where the expression "draw a bead on" - modified in the Dos Passos text to "got the bead on" - comes from....
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