To ‘beat around the bush‘ is to avoid the main point in a conversation. In other words, it means failing to get to the bottom line when speaking to others; it is similar to the idiom cut to the chase.
Note: It’s common for this phrase to have ‘stop’ in front of it, like in the example below. This is basically a way of saying ‘get directly to the point.’
Example: I’m busy right now, so if you have something important to tell me, then stop beating around the bush and spit it out already!
Synonyms / Similar Phrases:
1. Cut to the chase
2. Get to the point
The Origin of ‘Beating Around The Bush’
It is believed that this expression comes from hunting. According to Idiomation, in medieval times hunters would hire men to assist them during a hunt. The job of these hired helpers was to flush out any animals that were hiding in the bushes. How did they accomplish this? By beating the bushes with something like a wooden stick; there was probably some loud shouting involved as well. All the rustling and noise would scare out any birds and other animals from the cover of the brush, making them easy targets for the hunters.
But why would they beat around the bush? Why not get closer and hit it directly? This may be because it was safer to keep distance from the brush. You see, while the more harmless creatures — birds, rabbits, and squirrels — would be driven out by the noise, so too would the more dangerous ones. For example, what if a wild boar was sneakily lurking in the bushes? You wouldn’t want to mess with them; their sharp tusks could cause serious harm to humans.
Thus to avoid the threat of being seriously injured, these hired helpers might have chosen to keep their distance and beat around the bush instead of getting closer and hitting them directly. This is similar to how the idiom is used today—it refers to someone who talks around their point instead of getting directly to it.
Anyways, this expression is quite old. The earliest appearance of it in print comes from a book (or poem) called Generydes: a Romance in Seven-Line Stanzas, around the year 1440:
“Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.”
An alternate form of this expression goes ‘beating (about) the bush.’ An early recording of the phrase with the word ‘about’ in it comes from a poem written by George Gascoigne, 1572:
“To thinke bowe he abused was, alas my heart it bleedes:
He bet about the bushe, whiles other caught the birds …”
Example Sentences for ‘Beat Around The Bush’
- He did not give a straight answer as to why he was late for work, instead he beat around the bush.
- Will you two stop beating around the bush and tell me what is going on?
Similar Examples (in the sense of ‘getting to the key part’):
- Not wasting any time, she cut to the chase.
- Nash’s mother forgot her grocery list at home, so she called her son to ask about it. Since her phone’s battery was low, he made sure to get to the point.