What does “take stock” mean in “we must take stock of history”?
To take stock of history means to assess what happened before making a decision accordingly – presumably making sure that mistakes made in英语阅读：Taking stock？ the past won’t be repeated. “Taking stock of history” reminds me of the saying: those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.
“Take stock” is a phrasal verb and we know phrasal verbs are the weak spot of Chinese English learners, as are idioms and colloquialisms in general.
First, definitions. If you look up the dictionary, the first meaning of stock is the supply of things you keep and can use when you need them.
If you “take stock”, you store up or using a business term you take an inventory. And when you take an inventory of, say, wine, you count the bottles before putting them away. That’s taking stock of countable items. To take stock of something uncountable, such as history, on the other hand is you to think carefully about it, before taking action accordingly.
Likewise, we often talk of taking stock of situations. That means to think carefully about current affairs and decide what to do next. I recall Rowan Atkinson the British standup comedian, better known here as Mr. Bean, once mimicking a politician addressing an election gathering, who is obviously taking stock of Britain’s whole past and present, plus with an eye for its future:
“My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, and members of the press, there comes a time when we must all stand up and be counted. I am standing up now, and can be counted…. Because Britain is facing the gravest constitutional crisis... since 1380! And, you know, many of us still remember the dark days! And if we’re going to prevent the lights going out on our lives once more, we must ask ourselves crucial questions!
“Where are we? How did we get here? Why did we come? Where do we want to go? How do we want to get to where we want to go? How far do we have to go before we get to where we want to be? How would we know where we were when we got there? HAVE WE GOT A MAP?”
Haha, there you go. That’s Mr. Bean taking stock of electoral politics.
Here are two examples of “taking stock of” in the media:
1. The destinies of wizards and princes might seem more certain than those carved out for the rest of us, yet we all have to choose the manner in which we meet life: whether to live up (or down) to the expectations placed upon us; whether to act selfishly, or for the common good; whether to steer the course of our lives ourselves, or to allow ourselves to be buffeted around by chance and circumstance. Birthdays are often moments for reflection, moments when we pause, look around, and take stock of where we are; children gleefully contemplate how far they have come, whereas adults look forwards into the trees, wondering how much further they have to go.
- JK Rowling on Harry Potter’s last, long walk, Guardian.co.uk, November 13, 2008.
2. The mother of troubled singing sensation Amy Winehouse has written an open letter to her daughter calling on the star to “take stock” of where her life is going.
Janis Winehouse (52) has spoken publicly before about the pop star’s chaotic personal life before but has now urged the performer to get in contact in a bid to turn things around.
She said the family were "concerned" but not panicking as they were sure she would see things in her “own time”.
Despite the singer’s apparent problems her career shows no sign of slowing down after she was nominated for six Grammy awards this week.
Her mother, writing in the ‘News of the World’, said: “Early fame has overwhelmed you, it’s dizzied you and muddled your mind….
“Having to cancel your tour, as well, has been very sad. But maybe it will make you stop, think and take stock of where your life is going.”
- Mum’s open letter asks Amy to ‘take stock’, Independent.ie, December 10, 2007.