Beat Around the Bush

Also: Beat about the bush

Meaning Of Idiom ‘Beat Around the Bush’

To beat around the bush means to avoid speaking about something or be evasive and overly cautious; to not really say what one means, especially when one feels the topic is too important, upsetting or sensitive, or when one’s knowledge of the subject is not complete; to approach a subject in a roundabout and indirect way. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.,3Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.

Compare to the idiom beat the bushes, which has a similar origin but a different meaning.


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Usage

This idiom is often spoken to a person who is “beating around the bush” as a simple demand, as in the following:

“Don’t beat around the bush.”
“Stop beating around the bush.”
“Quit beating around the bush.”

Examples of Use

“Stop beating around the bush,” said Mike to his mom. “Are you selling the house or not?”

“If you want to borrow some money just ask, you don’t have to beat around the bush.”

“Listen, I don’t have all day,” said Mr. Tomlin. “You wanted to meet with me right away, so quit beating around the bush and get to the point.”

“I won’t beat around the bush,” said the doctor to the baseball pitcher. “I doubt you’ll be able to pitch again.”

 

Origin

First recorded in print in 1572 4Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013., this idiom comes from hunting in Europe, where wealthy noblemen would not bother venturing into the bush themselves to hunt game but would send servants or hired workers in ahead of them to drive small game out of the bushes. Since some of the animals were perfectly capable of defending themselves with tooth and claw, the servants would not go directly into the bushes where an animal might be hiding, but instead would use sticks or poles to beat or poke around the outside of the bush in order to startle the animal out of its hiding place. The same method was used to startle birds resting the bush so that they would fly up and thus be shot by the hunters or caught in a net. This cautious and indirect approach to get to one’s target gave rise to the allusion in the modern idiom. Originally, the variant ‘beat about the bush’ was as common as beat around the bush. 5Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.,6Ayto, John.  Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010. 

More Idioms Starting with B

More Around Idioms

More Beat Idioms

 

Sources   [ + ]

1, 4. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2, 5. Helterbran, Valeri R. Exploring Idioms: a Critical-Thinking Resource for Grades 4-8. Maupin House Pub., 2008.
3. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
6. Ayto, John.  Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.