What does "switch to the heart of" mean in the following sentence?

Why? There are women in the orchestra; people indifferent to a women’s charms. Besides, how many times would you be enraptured by appearances? After all, it’s something you tire of, and switch to the heart of the question. Statistically, of course, there are women conductors.

-- www.newyorker.com

Does it imply, "as you get older you won't care about the looks of women and more about deep stuff like their ways of thinking or life experiences"?

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    What is it about the sentence that confuses you? It is easier to give a good answer if we know where the question is coming from. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 17:51
  • thank you. "switch to the heart of.." I don't understand it in this context...
    – user2492
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 17:54
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    Good. That's helpful. Edit that into your question. Presumably you've looked up or already know the meanings of the separate words. (If not, go do so). Show what research you've done, and tell us why it doesn't make sense to you in this context. Keep in mind, this isn't intended to be mean-spirited or cruel. Stack Exchange is all about good questions and answers, and the more information you can give us about your question, the better the answers can be. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 17:58
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    It seems like the quotation is missing the initial question, which the interviewee is evading. The heart of the question is whether women can conduct, not about whether the orchestra would be actually distracted by an attractive woman.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


As cited here, it's impossible to say what switch to the heart of the question means. But checking OP's link, we quickly see that the writer here is switching to (turning to, addressing, responding to)...

"In your opinion, could a woman conduct?" (to which the writer's interviewee replies, "No!")

That's the general question. As to what exactly the "heart" of that question is, I can't really say. But it's bordering on Lit Crit - grammatically one should assume the heart of the question is "How do you explain the fact that women conductors exist, if you say women can't conduct?", because that's what he asks, after saying he's going to switch to the heart.

But logically I'd have thought the heart of the matter was "How on earth can you justify claiming that women are incapable of conducting?".

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    I don't think it borders so much on LitCrit as on TranslCrit. This is the second piece OP has given us today which was translated by "a Russian-speaking friend". "Switch to the heart of the matter" again suggests a fairly literal translation of a foreign idiom. We have no way of telling whether the switch is supposed to be a consequence of tiring or an injunction to the interviewee. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 19:12
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    -1 for egregious misreading of “it’s something you tire of, and switch to the heart of the question”, which meant that people switch focus from appearances to substance. Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 20:23
  • @jwpat7: I don't understand what you mean there. OP asks what switch to the heart of the question means. Logically it makes little sense to say "the question" is embodied in the statement that follows. You might say it's "Why?" at the start of the excerpt cited by OP (which is effectively my final sentence), but I think it's nonsense to suggest that "the question" is something being addressed by audiences as they switch from appearances to substance. It's obviously something that the writer asked the conductor earlier in the interchange. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 15:41
  • I disagree with what you say in the last 3-4 lines of your comment; but I won't argue further, as the translation is too poor to bear more analysis than given so far, if that much. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 18:24
  • Noting StoneyB's comment as well, I think it's clear any interpretation is likely to be "subjective", whether we classify it as LitCrit, TranslCrit, or whatever. But I seriously doubt OP is actually asking "What does switch to the heart of the question mean in a general sense?" To be honest, if Kit's comment had been there before I answered, I'd have probably upvoted the comment and closevoted the question. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 19:50

First the speaker says that women should be beautiful1. Then he says that their beauty would be distracting2.

Then the interviewer asks why someone would be distracted. There are women in the orchestra who would not be distracted by another woman.

Then the language becomes a little odd, probably since it's a translation.

It might be better translated as:

Appearance is something that doesn't continually hold your focus. Eventually you switch to the important part of the issue3 which is the conducting. After all there are women conductors.

I don't think that the quote is referring to someone tiring over years, but rather something that doesn't last during a performance. Women have proven their ability to be conductors and there is no reason to think that their appearance continually causes the orchestra to be distracted.

1. The important thing is, a woman should be beautiful, likable, attractive.
2. Musicians will look at her and be distracted from the music.
3. heart of the question


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