To avoid the main point in a conversation; failing to get to the bottom line when speaking to others.
When someone takes a long time to get to the core of what they’re trying say, people might use idioms like this one. It implies that the person should just get to the point.
Example: If you have something important to tell me, then stop beating around the bush and just spit it out already!
Origin of ‘Beating Around The Bush’
The origin of this phrase is believed to be from hunting. According to Idiomation, in medieval times hunters would hire men to assist them during a hunt. These men (the ones who were hired), their job was to help flush out animals taking cover in the bushes. They would do this by whacking the brush with a wooden stick, perhaps even adding in some loud shouting too.
All the rustling and noise would scare any birds and other animals out from the cover of the brush. This makes them easier targets for the hunters.
Now, there would be a certain degree of danger that comes from whacking bushes. Like what, you ask? Well, it’s true that the more harmless creatures—birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.—would be driven out. But what about the more dangerous ones, like wild boars? They could also be lurking inside, and you most definitely do not these wild pigs running at you.
Boars have sharp tusks that have the potential to cause serious harm to humans, and while this does not happen often, some people have even died to these beasts.
So to avoid the threat of getting seriously hurt from the dangerous animals, these hired helpers might have chosen to beat the area around the bushes instead of hitting them directly. This is similar to how the idiom is used today—it refers to someone who talks about something, but instead of getting directly to the point, they speak around it.
Anyways, from what I’ve seen, the earliest this phrase can be found in print is 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 alternative way people say this expression is ‘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 …”
- My friend got into a small car accident. I asked him whose fault it was, but he beat around the bush until finally admitting he was to blame.
- Can you two stop beating around the bush and tell me who ate the last doughnut in the box?