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When someone says "These people have a good bead on things", what exactly does it mean?

I guess it signifies being in control of situation, but I didn't find this exact word combination. There is also "to draw a bead on", but I'm not sure whether it is an equivalent.

  • Whoever said this mangled the idiom badly, and probably has no idea of its origin and meaning. "Draw a bead" is the proper phrase. "Have a bead" is as meaningless as "Get aim at" instead of "Take aim at". – P. E. Dant Jul 31 '17 at 2:11
  • @P.E.Dant This phrase is used by Agent K in the movie "MiB" (1997, around 00:31:10, YouTube) when he was talking to the future Agent J about people as opposed to a person: "They're happy. They think they have a good bead on things". Should we blame the scriptwriter? – andselisk Jul 31 '17 at 2:19
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    Heh! I will absolutely "blame" the scriptwriter, and it's certainly not expected (nor required) that a Hollywood writer (or more likely here, a "script doctor" or rewriter) will evince deep erudition. It's unimportant, though, and there are some fine moments in that film. For my money, anything with Tommy Lee Jones in it is worth watching. – P. E. Dant Jul 31 '17 at 2:25
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Yes, it is equivalent, but just slightly different. To draw a bead on means to line up a shot, as in hunting with a firearm, such that the shooter has the target in the gun's sight. Note that one only uses a firearm's sight when one is taking one's time, lying in wait, making sure one can do the job with a single shot.

To have a good bead on thus means, figuratively, to have a good, clear shot lined up. It suggests the people so described see the target clearly and have command of the situation. All that remains for them to do is pull the trigger.

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