Linda, a 54-year-old event consultant in Los Angeles, is neither disorganised nor innumerate. Ask about her finances, however, and you lose her for two hours. She opens her current (checking) account on a mobile app, then cites a rainy-day fund at another bank. She has 14 credit cards, five mortgages, six insurance policies and several pensions with ex-employers.

(source: The Economist)

What does "lose" mean here?

  • 3
    I think the answer becomes easier to identify if you include the sentences that follow: "She opens her current (checking) account on a mobile app, then cites a rainy-day fund at another bank. She has 14 credit cards, five mortgages, six insurance policies and several pensions with ex-employers." I'd suggest editing this portion into the question as well. – V2Blast Dec 24 '19 at 22:56

I'm not a native english speaker but i feel like the accepted answer may be incorrect (and this figure of speech translate well in french so ..).

I would say to "lose her" here means that you'll lose her in the discussion, she'd start rambling/monologuing about her finances without you being able to input anything.

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    This is the correct answer, for sure. I think that @EddieKal's answer would be the more usual use of the phrase, but you have to take it in the context of the whole sentence. – Him Dec 24 '19 at 14:04
  • @Scott Isn't it the other way around? This answer gives an explanation based on the basic sense of lose, a definition easier to translate and familiar to English learners. It is the most straightforward and common understanding of "lose". This explanation of "You don't have her any more in the conversation" is the same "lose" in "I lost something". – Eddie Kal Dec 24 '19 at 14:24
  • This answer feels correct, but the article uses word however, which means that there is a contradistinction between "disorganised nor innumerate" and "you lose her for two hours". From this point of view, the accepted answer might be correct after all. – Dmitry Korolev Dec 24 '19 at 14:25
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    The definition I cited itself is a figure of speech of "lose". When people say "You've lost me", they mean "I am no longer with you in the conversation." That is what "lost someone in a conversation" means. – Eddie Kal Dec 24 '19 at 14:33
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    Since the first thing she does is to look up one of her accounts, and she has many others, perhaps she spends the next two hours researching her own finances. – David K Dec 24 '19 at 15:22

It is important to note that the writer emphasizes Linda "is neither disorganised nor innumerate", so such a person normally should not have any problem talking about her finances with numbers, but the fact is she gets confused discussing them. Pay attention to the contradiction here.

"Lose" here means "to make someone confused, to cause someone to be lost in something." When in a conversation you feel the other party is confusing, you can tell them: "You've lost me there." This is a common English idiom. Macmillan Dictionary:

to make someone confused when you are trying to explain something to them
I’m sorry, you’ve lost me there. Who’s Andrew?

The sentence at issue tells you Linda is put in a confused state of mind by a question about her finances. She is hard pressed to get her finances straight and come up with an accurate answer if she is presented with such a question. Here she is not necessarily confused by the questioner, but rather by the mess of a situation. So the sentence means

Although Linda (a 54-year-old event consultant in Los Angeles) knows math and is not disorganized, if you ask her about her finances, you will make her confused for two hours.

"Two hours" here is a figure of speech, not to be taken literally. This Economist article describes how confusing and troublesome money management is for ordinary middle-class people. That is why if you ask one of them about their finances, they will be lost in the numbers.

The definition I cite itself is a figure of speech of "lose". When people say "You've lost me", they mean "I am no longer with you in the conversation." That is what the idiom "lose someone in a conversation" means.

Another answer states "lose" here "means that you'll lose her in the discussion." I don't disagree with this. This is a more literal understanding of the word "lose".

  • @Kal Thank you very much. It's a really great help to me. – Roo Dec 24 '19 at 4:47
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    "You've lost me" signifies that I did not understand you: you said something whose meaning is unclear to me, you used logic that made no sense to me, or the like. I see no evidence in the quote that Linda has any difficulty understanding her interviewer. – David K Dec 24 '19 at 15:19
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    I think "lose" here means she spends the next two hours working on the answer to this question and is not ready for the next one during that time. – David K Dec 24 '19 at 15:27
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    On second thought, it's not clear to me what happens for the next two hours. I get the idea that we're supposed to think Linda's finances are complicated, and that she does not fully comprehend them, but the use of the word "lose" here seems to me an example of writing that is not as clear as journalistic writing should be. – David K Dec 24 '19 at 15:58
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    My interpretation is that she is so focused on responding to the question, in tedious detail, that you can't get a word in edgewise for two hours. There is no suggestion that she is "confused" (though you well may be). "Lose" has many different possible interpretations. – Hot Licks Dec 26 '19 at 2:29

As a native English speaker I can only advise that the meaning of 'lose her' isn't clear. She can talk about her finances for two hours? In immaculate detail, or floundering around in circles? Not clearly established.

  • I think this actually is the most answer. Something happens for the next two hours, but the writer did not succeed in describing what that is. – David K Dec 25 '19 at 1:42
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    Agreed. I'm also a native English speaker (and linguist). The OP needs to know that this is an usual use of this verb, in the context of this phrase: it makes a native-speaker "stumble" over the interpretation or intended meaning. And "for 2 hours"!? That's a "joke", right? Rather than this vagueness being intentional, I think this is just poorly written text. The following sentence then more or less explains what the writer intended to mean: it takes her a long time to go through all her various bank accounts. – mike rodent Dec 25 '19 at 11:16
  • @mikerodent Well put, assuming "usual" was meant to be "unusual". – David K Dec 26 '19 at 2:41
  • Gaaah! It was. That won't have helped. Thanks for pointing that out. – mike rodent Dec 26 '19 at 13:13

You lose communication with her while she’s engrossed in her finances for the next two hours.

“I lost you there for a minute” is a typical thing to say when Skype doesn’t work properly. If she were an astronaut, we might say “we’re going to lose you for two hours during the upcoming solar flare”.

It’s also hyperbole in this case, emphasizing her complicated situation.

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