Their hopes rose about an hour later when they spied a helicopter approaching from the south, on a bead right toward them.

What does 'bead' mean in this sentence?

Please select from OED (https://www.evernote.com/shard/s33/sh/4dee9f72-78cf-48a9-8ae7-840b178a21bb/4300cf88d706db75f4420ba58640e0c8).

1 Answer 1


It has to do with an idiom relating to aiming a gun or other weapon

draw (or get) a bead on

(chiefly North American) Take aim at.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

It appears to derive from

"small knob forming front sight of a gun" 1831 (Kentucky slang); hence draw a bead on "take aim at," 1841, U.S. colloquial.


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  • Oh, is that where it comes from? I always imagined a string of beads being drawn taut to provide an aiming line or something like that. Never knew that little thingy on guns was called a bead. Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 7:30
  • @philsweet Good addition. We rarely use images in ELU, but this is where it really helps.
    – bib
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 10:43

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