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!
The Origin Of ‘Beating Around The Bush’
Where does the phrase ‘beating around the bush’ come from? It’s origin is believed to be from hunting. According to Idiomation, in medieval times hunters would hire men to assist them during a hunt. Their job was to help flush out animals that were hiding in the bushes. They would accomplish this by beating, or whacking the brush with a wooden stick, perhaps while adding in some loud shouting.
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 go directly up to it and beat it? Probably because of the danger factor. While the more harmless creatures—birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.—would be driven out by the noise, so would the more dangerous ones. For example, what if a wild boar was lurking in the brush? You wouldn’t want to mess with them; they have sharp tusks and can 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 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 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 …”
Example Sentences for ‘Beat Around The Bush’
- I asked one of my employees why he was always late for work, but instead of giving me a straight answer, all he did was beat around the bush.
- I don’t know why Tiffany is upset, so will you two stop beating around the bush and tell me what’s 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 called him after forgetting her grocery list at home. He made sure to get to the point, telling her exactly what she wrote down because her phone’s battery was low.