Someone who hem-haws around a topic or speaks indirectly about a topic before getting to the point might be said to have beat around the bush. Telling someone not to beat around the bush is to tell them to be direct and get to the point. Have you ever wondered about the origin of this phrase? I have compiled a series of articles in which I have explored and researched the meaning and origin of commonly used phrases.
The likely origin of the phrase, beat around the bush, is derived from early hunting techniques in which unarmed men would walk around the forest beating tree branches and making noise, so as to flush the game from the bush. This allowed the hunters to avoid directly approaching the animals. This technique was most often used in boar and bird hunting. In boar hunting, this was done as a safety measure due to the razor sharp tusks and the likelihood of a boar charging a hunter. In bird hunting this was to scare the birds from their cover so that hunters could take them easily.
At least one source cited that the phrase, beat around the bush, means the opposite of bushwhacking. Bushwhacking, as defined by The Free Dictionary, means to make one’s way through thick woods by cutting away bushes and branches. Although, in common usage today, bushwhacking refers to ambushing one’s quarry.
The research I have done did not result in a specific era in which the phrase beat around the bush came into use, though it is likely the original phrase was beat about the bush. The closest time frame I could find was “several hundred years.” At least one source speculated it could have been used as early as 1520. However, there is no documented evidence to support this theory. Most historians believe that this phrase originated in England. It is possible that the phrase beat around the bush is a shortened version of an old phrase, to beat the bushes for, which meant someone was seeking something with very little effort.
Regardless of when the phrase came into use, it is commonly used today, along with many other phrases that have derived from interesting or historical events. If you enjoyed this article, and would like to read more by this author, click on her name at the top of this page. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section.