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Get the drift? 明白

中国日报网 2020-01-17 13:24

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence and, in particular, “got his drift”: She doesn’t understand much English, but she got his drift.


My comments:

Even though she doesn’t speak much English, she was able to understand what he was saying.

On the main, that is.

“Drift” in the phrase “get the drift” refers to the main point of one’s argument or statement. You can understand “drift” better by watching a tree leaf drifting aimlessly in a lake or down a river, going with the flow, so to speak.

Or if the lake water is still, the leaf will go wherever the wind takes it.

If you don’t watch closely, you’ll lose track of the leaf pretty soon; but if you do watch closely, you’ll be able to keep your eye on the leaf and see where it’s heading.

Foreigners in China go to the flea market and get a bargain – or think they do – all the time. Even though they may not speak a ton of Chinese, they all can cut a deal without much fuss or problem. That’s because they all know what they are aiming for. Vendors too know exactly how to bargain with them. So long as they stay on the subject, i.e. coming to a mutually acceptable price, they seem to have little problem understanding each other – even though many vendors insist that they “no speak English”.

In any case, they always seem to be able to catch each other’s drift.

Watching a movie in a foreign language, we have a similar experience. Even though it’s a language we’re not familiar with, we are able to understand what the movie is about, especially if we know the plot, or if it’s a kung fu movie starring Bruce Lee.

So in short, to get the drift is to understand a speaker’s main point of argument, understand what he or she is trying to say, understand what they are driving at.

Yeah, “drive” is the verb behind “drift”, the hidden force that moves drifts of leafs or snow around, hither and thither.

All right, you get my drift. I think you do.

So, without further ado, here are media examples of people getting or catching the drift of various situations:


1. With her thick Alabama drawl and halting speech, she still seems miscast as the front-line spokeswoman for President Bush’s foreign policy. But as the world hovers on the brink of war, Margaret Tutwiler has become the indispensable sound bite on the evening news, the woman who articulates the government’s intentions to a nervous nation.

As the voice of the State Department, Ms. Tutwiler presides over briefings for reporters that -- in theory, at least -- provide a daily update on U.S. foreign policy. The briefings are also a primary forum from which Washington, D.C., sends sometimes subtle signals to its allies and enemies.

To the uninitiated, the job may seem ridiculously easy. It consists mainly of reading statements, mostly prepared in advance by someone else, in response to questions from reporters. Frequently, she simply refuses to comment. “I have nothing more on that for you,” Ms. Tutwiler is wont to say.

But in the high-stakes game of international diplomacy, a single misstep by Ms. Tutwiler can send a dangerously incorrect message that the government can never fully withdraw. For that reason, the post has always been a high-stress job. Ms. Tutwiler says that she found it terrifying at first.

Reporters who have watched Ms. Tutwiler since her debut in 1989 -- when she candidly said, “I am not, and do not claim to be, an expert in foreign policy” -- agree that her performance at the daily briefing has improved markedly, though it remains somewhat ragged. Her lilting accent and her occasional mispronunciations sometimes erode her presentation.

But there’s no doubt that she has mastered other aspects of the job that often eluded her predecessors -- even those who were steeped in the lore of diplomacy.

Most importantly, Ms. Tutwiler is a thoroughgoing expert on Secretary of State James A. Baker III. As one of a half-dozen aides who are in the secretary's inner circle, Ms. Tutwiler tells the public what Mr. Baker is thinking -- and often tells Mr. Baker what the public is thinking in return.

“She has a sense of what Baker is doing, thinking or about to do,” said Jim Anderson, a correspondent for United Press International who has been covering the department for 21 years. And “when she is permitted to, she expresses that,” he added.

“Because the State Department is run by that inner circle of Baker and six or seven others, this is an invaluable source of information,” Mr. Anderson said.

“Her weak point is that her institutional memory doesn't go back before 1989. Anything prior to that is just a black hole,” Mr. Anderson said. “I wouldn't put her as the very best, but I would put her toward the high end of the scale -- although in the beginning I wouldn’t have rated her that highly.”

But Ms. Tutwiler is more than a source of information for the public. She also serves as a political early-warning system for Mr. Baker. One of her jobs is to spot potential flaps before they start and head them off before they can do damage.

She is extremely good at being able to catch the drift of the way the press is going,” said a State Department official who watches her closely. “She can tell when something is about to become a major issue. She has a very good sense of what will play in Peoria. She can predict how a policy will play in different parts of the United States and deal with that from a public relations standpoint. This is one of her great values to Baker.”

- Secretary Baker’s ‘voice’ has world’s ear--as well as his, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1990.


2. I make old soldiers cry.

Old sailors, too. And airmen. Even Marines. Makes no difference.

That sounds cruel, I know. There’s comfort knowing the men in their 90s and older saw their tears as part of a duty they took on in their 20s and younger.

I've spent the past few months interviewing veterans about D-Day and the Allied invasion of Normandy that ultimately liberated France. This was a turning point in World War II. As one veteran put it, “Europe would be one big Auschwitz otherwise.”

But winning doesn't make war easy. And these veterans have been walking around for 75 years after seeing and living things that many of us can’t bear to watch in movies like “Saving Private Ryan.”

These former servicemen had wildly different D-Days. Some had a tougher time than others. But the more interviews I put in my notebook the more I realized they shared one abiding characteristic: a sense of duty.

They use walkers and wheelchairs and canes now, these men who once carried guns and drove tanks into battle. They don’t see as well as they once did, and they sometimes struggled to hear my questions. But no matter what, they all felt a responsibility to tell their stories so that those who died were not forgotten and that those who weren’t there could understand the horrors of war.

I was by no means alone. Dozens of journalists were chasing the same people as the wartime Allies prepared to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the landings this week. That made it more challenging for them. It’s hard enough to tell your story once; excruciating to tell the same painful stories again and again and again. But it didn’t stop them.

During one interview, a well-meaning press officer from the Ministry of Defense tried to cut short a conversation with 94-year-old Ted Emmings — a Royal Navy coxswain who ferried Canadians to Juno Beach — because a cab had arrived to take him home. Emmings refused to go. The car could wait. He wasn’t finished, and he wasn’t going anywhere until he had.

No matter what one might think of war, it's impossible to hear someone like Emmings talk about seeing his friends die “more or less in front of you” and not feel deep respect for a man who, 75 years later, refuses to let his friends down. Not remembering their sacrifice? Now that would be unthinkable.

There are no rose-tinted glasses that make it all go away for these veterans. Nor is it an ego trip. When you are 95 or so, you have different concerns. Most of them told me they feel uncomfortable wearing their medals and berets in France because wherever they go the French want to shake their hands and hug them in gratitude. These men aren’t looking for gratitude, they just want to make sure their memories don’t die with them.

Jack Woods is one of these people. He’s 95, once a member of the 9th Royal Tank Regiment — a Tankie in his parlance. Woods recalled getting to France with no battle experience whatever after training in England. Then all of a sudden it got nasty as they pushed forward in Churchill tanks. Those ahead of him didn’t fare well, and he could see them up ahead.

“You could see tanks burning on the skyline. They burned for more than two days. They were going off like fireworks as the ammunition in them was blowing.”

“Those tanks I see burning on the skyline?” he said through tears. “I see them burning all the time.”

Fred Lee wasn't going to let his hearing difficulties get in the way of telling his story. He struggled to hear me, but once he got the drift of what I wanted to know, he just started talking. I couldn't even interrupt. He joined the Navy when he was just 17, and was on the command ship HMS Nith on D-Day.

“All I can say is, it was hell,” he said. “There were dead bodies all over the seas. We wondered why we were doing this.”

- D-Day veterans choke back tears to ensure memories live on, by Danica Kirka, Associated Press, June 9, 2019.


3. It’s Duck Season. It’s Duckamania. It’s a quack-quack here, and a quack-quack there. Here a quack....you get the drift.

I’m referring, of course, to Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges and the sensation he has quickly become since being named Pittsburgh’s starter following the Bengals game on November 24, a contest in-which he relieved struggling second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph early in the third quarter and immediately quacked some life into the Steelers listless offense.

Everywhere I go, people are aggressively asking me for my opinion on Hodges. They’re practically grabbing me by the lapel (you know, like how they used to do in the 1940s before personal boundaries became a thing?) and wanting to know if I think he can “Keep this up until the end of the season?”

When I respond with answers like, “I sure hope so,” the spirit of the retort I’m usually met with is, “Oh, come on! What kind of answer is that? It’s Duck Season, baby! He’s an undrafted free-agent who nobody thought could do it, baby! He’s kind of short and small and his arm isn’t elite-level strong. Anyway, tell me why you’re not totally sold on him yet, damn it!”

“Duh,” says me. “Because of all the things you just rattled off.”

Not only is Hodges an undersized and undrafted rookie quarterback who possesses a less than elite-level arm, he has about 12 quarters of NFL experience under his belt. Therefore, it’s perfectly understandable why I would be cautious with my praise and my expectations of Duck Dynasty.

Do you want me to be all aggressive with my opinion of Hodges and one day wind up a victim of @Stupidoldtakes (or whatever the name of that Twitter handle is that they use to expose people who have opinions about stuff)?

I’m excited about Hodges and his moxie and his confidence, but it wasn’t long ago that I was feeling pretty good about Rudolph’s future. I still might feel good about Rudolph again.

Who knows?

- It’s okay to be cautious with your optimism about Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges, by Anthony Defeo, BehindTheSteelCurtain.com, December 6, 2019.

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About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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