To ‘beat around the bush’ is to avoid the main point in a conversation; failing to get to the bottom line when speaking to others; cut to the chase.
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 directly to the point.
Example: 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 be lurking in the brush? You wouldn’t want to mess with them.
Boars can cause serious harm to humans with their sharp tusks. And in some cases, people have even died to these beasts.
Thus to avoid the threat of being seriously injured, these hired helpers probably chose 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?