I have been reading an essay about Joan Didion from New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/postscript/joan-didion-and-the-voice-of-america)

I would like to ask multiple questions in this essay. Note that this essay referred what the author interviewed her before. I just copied a couple of paragraphs from the essay for your better understanding.

Thank you so much for your efforts.


I cannot understand the meaning of the beat in the last part of the first paragraph.

The paragraph is below.

No country but America could have produced Joan Didion. And no other country would have tolerated her. Think about it. Born in 1934, and gone this month, eighty-seven years later, Didion came of age during Stalin’s reign, at a time when South Africa was instituting apartheid, when India and Pakistan were almost drowning in the aftermath of Partition. Would Mao’s China have welcomed her? Or England—the country of saying the opposite of what you think so as not to cause offense? Not likely. Plus, she didn’t like England. “Everything that’s wrong here started there,” she told me once, when she was thinking of cancelling a trip to London. “Also, so obsequious,” she added. “ ‘Yes, Miss Didion. No, Miss Didion.’ ” Beat. “And they don’t mean it.”

Beat has a meaning to strike something repeatedly in order to make make a noise (https://www.lexico.com/definition/beat).

If I interpret the sentence with that meaning, she hit something with some bad feeling, talking about England.

Is this right?

  • Hi Changwan Sun, I've commented out your second and third question. Please ask one question at a time. That keeps thing simple. When you get an answer to the first question you can ask the second. Sometimes the answer to the first question helps you to answer the others. If you want the text of your questions, its still there, but commented out. You can use edit to get it back. See How to Ask
    – James K
    Feb 5, 2022 at 13:31
  • @JamesK Thank you for your comments. I will ask one question at a time! Feb 6, 2022 at 7:37

1 Answer 1


A "beat" in a dialogue is a short pause, for dramatic or comedic effect. (wiktionary sense 7)

The implication here is that the speaker stopped for a moment for a dramatic effect before saying "And they don't mean it" (English people are lying when they say "Yes, Miss Dillon"; they don't really do everything that Miss Dillon tells them)

A writer of a play might include the direction beat to tell an actor when to pause for effect. The term is common for writers of plays and has a TV Tropes page about it.

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