Beat Around the Bush – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Are we talking about some obscure gardening technique when we mention beat around the bush? Or maybe it’s a secret method for bushwhacking in the wilderness? Not quite. It’s a pretty common expression we use in English, but it’s essential to understand its true meaning when using it. Let’s pull back the leafy veil of mystery and explore the true meaning of this fascinating phrase.

Meaning of Beat Around the Bush

Beat Around the Bush Origin Meaning

To beat around the bush doesn’t require any actual bushes or any form of bush-beating apparatus. It’s an idiomatic expression in English that means to avoid talking about what is important, to delay, or be evasive in some way.

When you’re beating around the bush, you’re giving the roundabout, taking scenic detours in conversation instead of hitting the main point directly.

I always think of my mother, who never explains or says anything directly. She just kind of beats around the bush, alludes to things and expects everyone to read between the lines. It can be super frustrating.

Is It Beat About the Bush or Beat Around the Bush?

Beat Around the Bush vs Beat About the Bush Ngram
Beat around the bush and beat about the bush usage trend.

So, should you beat about the bush or beat around the bush? In truth, both versions of the saying are correct. The original phrase beat about the bush was birthed from the United Kingdom.

The American version, beat around the bush, is more popular in the United States. Like many things in English, it’s less about right or wrong and more about geography.

Origin and Etymology of Beating Around the Bush

The phrase’s origin is quite literal and comes from medieval times and the European practice of game hunting. Elite hunters would hire men to beat the bushes with sticks and other objects, causing birds to take flight, and then, hunters would catch the birds in nets. This also applied to other small game birds like pheasants, rabbits and even wild boar.

But apparently, when it came to dangerous animals like the boar, the men would hold back a little and not beat the bush as much as they should for fear of getting attacked by the animal. So, they beat around the bush to make it look like they were still doing their job.

Beating Around the Bush Synonyms

  • Prevaricate
  • Skirt around the issue
  • Hedge
  • Dodge the question
  • Sidestep the issue

Beat Around the Bush Examples in a Sentence

Beat Around the Bush Origin Meaning 1
  • Oh my gosh, just stop beating around the bush and give me what the final cost for the job will be.
  • During the interview, he beat around the bush whenever we asked about his previous experience in the field, so I think we’ll put him in the maybe pile.
  • She tends to beat around the bush a lot, which can be super frustrating when time is short, and we’re in a hurry.
  • We’ve only got a bit of time, so please stop beating around the bush and explain what I need to do. 
  • We don’t have time for you to beat around the bush; we need direct answers right now.
  • I wish my parents would stop beating around the bush and just get to the point.

Watch Out for Those Wild Boars

And that’s the phrase beat around the bush in all its beating glory. Now you know that it’s got nothing to do with bushes or sticks anymore, but it’s about avoiding the main point in a conversation.

So, whenever someone tells you to stop beating around the bush, remember that they’re asking you to get straight to the point.

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