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“Catch my drift?”

Heymatt:

I hate the phrase, “if you catch my drift.” I think it sounds stupid and it doesn’t even make much sense. What is my drift and why should anyone have to catch it?

— Maya

Oddly enough, your favorite phrase has become idiomatic over the course of centuries. Way back in the fifteen-double-aughts, “drift” was a common enough word for the general thrust of conversation; the literal meaning being “what I am driving at,” since “drift” and “drive” share a common route. The letters F, V, and their lesser cousin, B, kind of blend together in etymology like that. “The drift” could even be the intent itself, as in, “My sole drift is to answer your questions.” The seafaring idea of a ship drifting in the ocean currents actually comes about later, although not much, and is derived from a sense of being driven by the motion of the ocean.

While you’re right that “if you catch my drift” smacks of obscurity inasmuch as we’d never use the word outside of the popular idiom, there’s something to appreciate about the subtle implications of the phrase. I like that there’s a strong sense of oblique motion, as though the course of conversation isn’t exactly clear, yet sooner or later the inevitable meaning will accumulate like detritus on the seashore or snow piling in drifts at the edge of a parking lot. While the direction may not be immediately obvious, it’s also not aimless. “To catch my drift” is to pick up on the subtle undercurrents that drive my point home across however many miles of oceanic vagueness. There’s also no denying that it’s more elegant than “hint hint nudge nudge wink wink say no more.”

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Heymatt:

I hate the phrase, “if you catch my drift.” I think it sounds stupid and it doesn’t even make much sense. What is my drift and why should anyone have to catch it?

— Maya

Oddly enough, your favorite phrase has become idiomatic over the course of centuries. Way back in the fifteen-double-aughts, “drift” was a common enough word for the general thrust of conversation; the literal meaning being “what I am driving at,” since “drift” and “drive” share a common route. The letters F, V, and their lesser cousin, B, kind of blend together in etymology like that. “The drift” could even be the intent itself, as in, “My sole drift is to answer your questions.” The seafaring idea of a ship drifting in the ocean currents actually comes about later, although not much, and is derived from a sense of being driven by the motion of the ocean.

While you’re right that “if you catch my drift” smacks of obscurity inasmuch as we’d never use the word outside of the popular idiom, there’s something to appreciate about the subtle implications of the phrase. I like that there’s a strong sense of oblique motion, as though the course of conversation isn’t exactly clear, yet sooner or later the inevitable meaning will accumulate like detritus on the seashore or snow piling in drifts at the edge of a parking lot. While the direction may not be immediately obvious, it’s also not aimless. “To catch my drift” is to pick up on the subtle undercurrents that drive my point home across however many miles of oceanic vagueness. There’s also no denying that it’s more elegant than “hint hint nudge nudge wink wink say no more.”

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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